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Federal Lawsuit Says Corinth Municipal Court Runs ‘Debtors’ Prison’

By Josh Mitchell

Corinth Today News Editor

A federal class action lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses the city of Corinth Municipal Court of “operating a modern-day debtors’ prison.”

The lawsuit says the Corinth Municipal Court jails poor people for the “inability to pay money bail and fines.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen and alleges violations of Constitutional rights.

Corinth Mayor Tommy Irwin was not immediately available for comment Tuesday night. However, the Corinth Mayor and Board of Aldermen did discuss the suit in closed session Tuesday night.

Suspects arrested for misdemeanor charges will not be released from jail unless they pay a certain amount of money predetermined by a bail schedule, the lawsuit charges. There is no consideration given to the suspect’s ability to pay, it adds.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits jailing people just because they cannot afford to pay, the lawsuit says.

Furthermore, a person who has been arrested is not brought before a judicial officer until the next scheduled court date, and court is only held once a week, the suit says. This means a person could “languish in jail” for a week or more before he or she has the chance to ask the judge to review the monetary conditions of release, the lawsuit says.

Finally, when suspects are fined and adjudicated in court, they are required to pay the full fine or make a down payment, the lawsuit says. If they can’t pay, they are put back in jail and sit out their fines for $25 a day, the suit charges.

“Defendants operate this debtor’s prison in Corinth, Mississippi, where one out of every four people lives in poverty, nearly half of the population over 16 does not work, and the median household income is approximately half of the national median household income,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs are Corinth residents Sammy Brown, Brian Keith Powell and “all others similarly situated.” They are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

The experiences of the plaintiffs, Brown and Powell, are “typical,” the lawsuit says.

Brown was arrested without a warrant Dec. 1 for public drunkenness and has been held in pretrial detention for more than 72 hours without an initial appearance or a judicial determination that there was probable cause for his arrest, the lawsuit says.

Furthermore, Brown has a learning disability, is unemployed and lives with his father. His only regular source of income is a disability check. The only reason he is still incarcerated is that he cannot afford to pay the $600 bail. He would be out now if he could pay.

Howell was arrested Nov. 27, and on Monday pleaded guilty to charges of no insurance, improper equipment and no driver’s license. He was ordered to pay a $1,005 fine or sit it out in jail at a rate of $25 per day, the lawsuit says.

“Mr. Howell is indigent, does not have steady employment, cannot afford to pay the fine and is wheelchair bound due to a vehicular accident a couple of years ago that resulted in his leg being amputated,” the lawsuit says.

Howell is incarcerated now because he can’t afford to pay the fine, and would be out immediately if he could pay. The city’s policies result in “systematic wealth-based detention in Corinth,” the lawsuit charges.

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the city’s process is unlawful and an order that prevents the city from jailing people for misdemeanors and municipal offenses simply because they cannot pay an amount set by a secured bail schedule.

Brown and others in similar situations also seek a declaration that the city’s failure “to hold or seek prompt probable cause determinations for people arrested without a warrant violates the federal Constitution.”

The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to require probable cause hearings without unnecessary delay and within 48 hours for defendants arrested without a warrant. Failure to conduct timely probable cause hearings violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution that prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, the suit adds.

Finally, Howell and others seek a declaration that it is illegal to require people convicted of misdemeanors and municipal offenses to sit out their fines in jail without first appointing counsel and determining their ability to pay.

16 Comments

  1. John H John H December 6, 2017

    The simple solution for these individuals was not to break the law in the first place.

    • glenn chastain glenn chastain January 13, 2018

      Well at the same time just because you might be a cop don’t give you the right to break the LAW…law is law no matter if you are a cop or not…

  2. Scott M. Scott M. December 6, 2017

    If you can’t pay the fine or do the time, don’t do the crime.

    • Steve Steve December 9, 2017

      Scott,

      I had a heart attack and couldn’t work, I got a ticket in Booneville, MS and was threatened with jail if I could not pay! The judge told me he had a heart attack too and that was not an excuse! You need to think about things befire you speak!

    • glenn chastain glenn chastain January 13, 2018

      Well said but that doesn’t mean corinth courts can just do what they want either. . Its called LAW

  3. Mildred Coonrod Mildred Coonrod December 6, 2017

    If a person draws Social Security disability they lose their check while incarcerated as well

  4. Phil Wallace Phil Wallace December 6, 2017

    I can’t wait to see the city of Corinth start talking about The Simple Solution they should have made before they brought Bob Hart on a city manager. I did my best to warn your town on all fronts of what was fixing to be coming from Bob Hart when he immediately left his position at Kennedale. You folks better get ready for some Simple Solutions

  5. donal hastings donal hastings December 6, 2017

    well the no insurance fine is bull anyway it is a ridiculas law passed by the state in the first place and should not be charge by a county .it was passed to protect the wealthy and their cars.only one who gaines is ins.companys. we drove for amost a 100 years with out it being law,like seat belts and child restraints.what it boils down to is a way the states can seperate you from your money.but what happened to getting a ticket for no tag or no dr.

  6. Ruth Ruth December 7, 2017

    Not true.

    Disability stops if you are in prison.
    That means you were convicted of a felony.
    It starts up after you are released and it is applied for.

    Jail and prison are not the same thing.

    Government checks roll in as usual for people who are in jail for misdemeanors.

  7. Ruth Ruth December 7, 2017

    Its not any sort of “debtor’s prison” if they have the option of paying a fine, sit out the time sentenced to, or dont commit a crime in the first place.

    It’s extremely simple:
    Get drunk at and stay at home, get and keep a valid driver’s license or don’t drive, buy a car you can afford to insure or don’t buy one, don’t shoplift…or steal period.

    These accusations are absurd.

    If it becomes common practice not to lock up people committing crimes becouse they are “poor,” then I will find some lawyer with nothing better to do than file lawsuits all day, all over the country, siting discrimination by law enfourcement and the courts against those public drunks and shoplifters who also have jobs.

    • Steve Steve December 9, 2017

      Ruth,

      It’s if or…either you pay or you go to jail! You do not have a choice! If you cannot afford to pay….you go to jail! That’s called a debtor’s prison! Look it up….its unconstitutional to put a man in jail just because he cannot afford to pay his fine!

    • glenn chastain glenn chastain January 13, 2018

      Also does that give the officials to do what they want…nope .. but if someone would take the time to see what is LAW then ppl wouldn’t be sounding like a ass on here…

      • Andrea Andrea January 20, 2018

        Just so you know there is people who sit in jail for no good reason. I agree crimes should not be committed but however i know plenty of people who lose everything over dumb reasons. If anyone doesnt believe that then just go through the records. People complain about the Constitution being broke or civil rights being violated and want to go to war over it. The Constitution was wrote to protect the people. If a bail bondsman doesnt want to deal with you then thats a separate problem. This town needs to abide by the law and just because your a judge or clerk that makes her own laws doesn’t give them the right to think they cant come down quicker than they came up. This town has been ordered four times to stop the debtors prison and they did not so guess what they have broke the law! Dont believe me then look it up. You can bet none of them sit in jail but they just might because they are not untouchable because the feds dont play. So how is anyone going to take up for crooks all the way around. The jugde broke the law on a very large scale so he is no better than the crook down the street. Just know what your talking about before you speak! Simple as that and you wont sound so stupid.Oh just so everyone knows its not just ross they are after its his clerk ginger as well.

        • glenn chastain glenn chastain January 20, 2018

          Absolutely right

  8. Ruth Ruth December 7, 2017

    PS…
    If you have been to jail 20+ times and never appear in court after you post bail, meaning the bondsman has to spend time finding you and taking you back to jail,
    then pretty soon no bondsman will take on the responsibility of you.

    Again, dont commit a crime and you won’t have the worries. Duh.

    • glenn chastain glenn chastain January 13, 2018

      WOW SOME ONE NEEDS TO STUDY LAW.THEN MAYBE THEY MIGHT KNOW A THING OR TWO

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