The “Pay or Stay” Rule

Judges who force defendants to pay off fines and costs due to the court by threatening or imposing jail time are violating the Constitution.

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Incarcerating Someone Based on Financial Ability is a Violation of Equal Protection Laws.

The Pay or Stay scenario has existed for many years, likely since the very beginning of the court system. As the name implies, if you can’t pay your fines and costs or bond, you stay in jail. It has been criticized by both conservative and liberal critics alike. Concerning fines and costs, one problem is that some courts allow a defendant time to pay, and some don’t, leading to an unfair system. Furthermore, more prominent defendants or defendants with talented attorneys by their side often were given breaks and given time to pay, making the system even more unfair. With regard to bonds, defendants who can’t post the bond are held in jail, sometimes for weeks, even if they are innocent and the charges are later dismissed.

Jailed for Non-Payment of Fines or Court Costs

One example of Pay or Stay is as follows: Several years ago, a local district court judge was addressing a defendant about money he owed to the court. The Defendant claimed he didn’t have the money the judge had fined him. The defendant asked the judge, “Is it pay or stay?” The judge said, “Yes, sir.” The defendant could not come up with all of the money all at once, and the judge sent the defendant to jail.

The defendant appealed, and the higher court ruled that it was unconstitutional to jail someone without ascertaining the defendant’s ability to pay. In September 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court took matters into its own hands. It announced the new rule that state courts are not allowed to jail a defendant without first determining the defendant’s ability to pay.

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If it is illegal, why do judges still jail defendants who cannot pay fines and costs?

It is an unfortunate truth that judges still cling to the old idea that if a defendant cannot pay money owed to the court, that jail is the best way to motivate him or her to come up with the funds. Judges who still rely on this primitive position just do not care that people with less financial resources end up spending more time in jail than wealthier defendants. This is a violation of equal protection laws, and a good lawyer will stand up to even the toughest judge to make sure a client is not unfairly incarcerated.

Fixing the Problem

Some laws are intended to protect defendants from judges who discriminate against people based on socioeconomic status. However, even with the safeguards, you still may be in jeopardy of sitting in jail due to a particularly harsh judge’s failure to follow the rules. Some judges openly disagree with the relaxed rules and simply disregard them. Your case may be remedied eventually, and you may be released, but how long you will have to sit in jail is uncertain. That’s not acceptable.

You must retain a top-rated, highly regarded criminal defense attorney right from the start of your case to ensure you don’t spend one minute in jail unnecessarily. You need a zealous advocate who will make sure a judge follows the rules. A good lawyer will advocate for lower fines and costs, reasonable terms of payment, and help you avoid a “pay or stay” situation.

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Defense Attorneys Who Keep You Out of Jail

The dedicated, experienced, and zealous defense attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston Counties and throughout Michigan. We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation, while showing empathy and care for each client.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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