ACLU warns Sandusky Muni Court to stop jailing debtors

Report says Ohio judges and courts are violating U.S. and state constitution sending people to jail for not paying fines.
Apr 4, 2013

Click here to read letter to Sandusky Municipal Court, warning O'Brien to stop the practice or face a federal lawsuit.  

"The U.S.Constitution has long prohibited the use of debtors' prisons to incarcerate defendants who cannot afford to pay fines and court costs," Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio wrote to O'Brien. 

"It is our sincere hope that we can avoid instituting litigation over these issues," Link wrote, asking O'Brien to stop the practice and establish a written policy detailing compliance with the law. She also asked O'Brien to "remove from the total amounts owed by defendants any costs and fees charged to them as a result of warrants based on failure to pay fines and costs." 

The letter was copied to Ohio Supreme Court chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.

Get the Register to read about reaction to to the ACLU's complaint against Sandusky Municipal Court. 

Click here to watch videos interviews with Ohioans who were incarcerated after failing to pay debt.

Click here to read the report. 



Looks like a good time to examine past records of this travesty of justice taking place over the years. Unfortunately I have first hand knowledge of this BS happening at least 10 years ago. Pathetic way to obtain salary for all those employed in law enforcement.


An additional travesty is throwing people in jail for failing to pay child support. It is also using prison to coerce payment of a debt which the Constitution prohibits but the Courts do it dishonestly by calling it Contempt of Court. What a joke. They don't have to prove you failed to pay when you had the ability to pay. The burden of proof is switched around where the debtor must prove he couldn't pay. What a bunch of BS.

Now The Rest of...

I agree it is is a travesty when someone is jailed for not paying child support, jail is way to good for low lifes that fail to support their own children.

Eda M. Handly

"Coerce payment of a debt which the Constitution prohibits..."? Are you serious? Men and women who fail to take care of their children is the bigger joke. However, I do not agree putting them in jail solves the problem. No one can work and make a living in jail, then how in the world are they supposed to even try to pay? It doesn't make sense. But please don't start that militia crap... Take care of your kids or keep it in your pants. Period.


Some of you people need to actually read the Constitution some time. It actually says in black and white that no one shall be imprisoned for debt. The constitutional procedure is to reduce the unpaid fines or court costs or child support to a civil judgment against the person and then collect it like any other debt with liens, attachments, garnishments, etc. Imprisonment is specifically prohibited by the Constitution. You can't go to jail if don't pay your credit card bill and shouldn't be going to jail if you don't pay your bill for fines or court costs or child support.

It's very simple but some courts including the Sandusky Municipal Court have been violating the Constitution for years. Other courts imprisoning people for failing to pay a child support debt is equally unconstitutional. It seems like the only way to stop this repeated constitutional violation would be to file a Federal lawsuit against the public officials who violate a person's constitutional rights by imprisoning them for debt. Let's see how long they keep violating the Constitution when they are facing a substantial money judgment against them personally. Perhaps they will stop then.

And yes, I am a lawyer so I know what I'm talking about. I'm also a single father with custody of three minor children and I haven't seem a dime of child support from their deadbeat mom in years. Nonetheless, I still understand that it is unconstitutional to put some one in jail for failing to pay a debt.

Julie R.


Eda M. Handly

I am very well aware of this. However, the way you worded your last comment seemed as if you were heading down another road entirely...


I know this is a burden to the system and the honest hard working tax payers that take care and responsiablity for their children , I know one guy that has 6 kids and will not go to work and then get mad when the law catches up to him , he has no intention of paying his share to help raise his kids that he helped bring into this world
The thing that bothers me most is now he is using women to support him and not doing anything to try and help her .Its a shame , a real shame


Hahahaha.... The money has to come from somewhere to build these BRAND NEW court houses; the judges illegally threaten citizens to pay or be jailed for it. Speaking of new court houses and illegal debt collection practices, it looks like these clowns are extorting indigent people to help build their surplus of funds...

Preliminary estimates on construction costs for a new Erie County Municipal Courthouse range from $2 million to $4 million.

O'Brien, who oversaw about 15,000 cases in 2012, vowed to contribute $1.85 million of his own court budget for an updated courthouse, be it new or refurbished.

The judge stashed away surplus money from years past, sparing taxpayers from fronting any additional money for the project.

As a comparison, Erie County Municipal Court Judge Paul Lux spent $1.7 million for a revamped courthouse on Mason Road West in Milan Township.

Lux's facility, also paid for with surpluses from years past, should open in the coming weeks...


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

swiss cheese kat

It's not a crime to owe money.


Absolutely correct. That's why you can't put some one in jail for failing to pay a debt. It's in the Constitution. Everyone wants to complain about violating the Right to Bare Arms in the Second Amendment but some of the same people not only ignore the specific prohibition against imprisoning for debt in the Constitution itself, not an amendment, but actively support violating the Constitution. What a bunch of hypocrites. One person spending a day in jail for failing to pay a debt is a sustantially larger constitutional violation than all the gun control laws in the entire country.


Apparently it is a crime to owe money according to the article. It says that a person can be jailed for not paying a fine if it can be shown the person has the money to pay for the fine.

I'm not sure what that means. If the person is in poverty but has a couple dollars for food and shelter the fines take precedent?


you cant get blood from a stone. If you have no income , jail isnt gonna change that fact.....Duh. Charles Dickens Dad was in Debters prison, he just sat there..... still no money.........sat there....still broke.....sat some cash......Today our taxes would pay for him to sit in jail......still no income.


Yet they have money for drugs, cigs, booze, iPhones, laptops, gaming systems etc. Throw their butts in the slammer!!

John Harville

Ah MIKEL... SO PROUD... you NEVER miss a chance to nail everyone to the same wall and paint with a very wide tar-filled brush.
Ah Karma can be an ugly betch and you're just building sooooooooo much it's gonna be painful when it falls...


it's simple johnny boy, pay your freakin bills before you spend your money on bullsh!t and you won't have problems now will you.

if billy bob pays $100 per month for his i-phone but doesn't pay his $189 bill to the courts why is he not punished? apparently, he has the means if he can afford that i-phone.

our society has become one of wants not needs and people like you are an accessory to the demise of this country's financial stability.


@Mikel...does billy bob not have the RIGHT to chose which bill he intends to pay, or do you wish to chose which bill he pays? It sounds as if you want to make that decision for him. You would chose that he pay the bill to the court, rather than have him pay his phone bill. How is that freedom if you tell him which bill he MUST pay VS the bill he CHOSES to pay? I think that is more like a communistic or totalitarian situation removing his freedom of choice when you tell billy bob that you are now in charge of his decision on which bill he pays with his own money.

Sorry, but I just couldn't resist that. Your logic sort of made me think that you would remove a liberty from a person by demanding that he do what YOU say in paying the bill rather than allowing him his choice of freedom, which is what I always thought we had in America. Just a thought.


I am just saying that if you can afford non-necessity items that you should be held accountable. Instead of an I-phone one could use a simple Trac phone until their bill was paid. Instead of cable with the "deluxe" package they could just get the very basic package until your bills are paid to the courts that's all I am saying.

Now The Rest of...

ACLU=All Criminals Loves Us, when an attorney can't get a real job, they turn to the ACLU for employment.


@ JUSTUS4liberty

Uhm.....what the h*ll are you talking about??? Are you so ignorant that you can't see the problem with this IF its true???? How else are you going to make these people pay their fines????? Has this country gotten soooo bad that people have yet another reason not to have a job?? Tell me how moronic this sounds: a guy walks into a court room has no job or no money, thus he's indigent...but he owes thousands in fines and court costs from crimes HE'S you are you going to make him live up to his responsibilities??? This is a joke!!!! You think fines are used to help pay law enforcement??? Have you ever even read a book??? SOOO ignorant!!! You my friend are a prime example of what's wrong with this country!!!


When it comes to ignorant, it seems JohnDorian12 is at the top of the list. Try actually reading the Constitution some time. It actually says that no one shall be imprisoned for debt and yet some Courts repeatedly and knowingly violate the Constitution. The Constitution is not a technicality. It's the law of the land.

John Harville

jas... c'mon. Posters the like of Dorian and Mikel only haul out the Constitution when it suits their attitudes.


ahhh johnny boy. please tell when i said anything about the constitution! thats what i figured i never did.


I'm guessing that if you check - you'll find lots of comments about the 2nd ammendment from both of them. This is how your typical right winger thinks - I'll use the constitution when it benefits me, otherwise, we aren't going to bother with it because it would make them look like non-thinkers.


Agreed 100% johndorian the scum of this town already gets off way to easy now they arent even held accountable for their fines. Let them pay with their welfare they spend on booze and drugs. Does that mean i can just get a ton of tickets and not pay them cuz who cares state says i dont have to. Thats a bunch of crap thats why this country is a joke the laws are geared to benefit the criminals

John Harville

FOOLS... so now you don't like the Constitution?

The Founding Fathers to whom all of you love to refer were adamant about Debtors Prisons - especially since many of our greatest citizens themselves OR parents were sent here when 'the colonies' and Australia were used as debtor colonies or penal colonies.
So... how about we load up all the locals who are delinquent (ever bounce a check or been late on the mortgage?) and send them to... uh... the moon?


You and other's like you are idiots-do a little research on the topic before you spout off. There was a reason why this was included in our Constitution. I've had my dog run off before and was fined. Unfortunately, I was working minimum wage job while supporting two kids as a single mom. There were times when my hours would be cut and I got behind on my fines.I live in Norwalk so I faced a mandatory 10 day sit in jail. Lose my job? lose my apt.? lose custody of my kids? The min. you can agree to in an extended payment plan here was $25-$30. After paying rent,food,utilities etc. there wouldn't be $25-$30 left. As for working it off, I asked Ridge that one time and his reply was I would have to pay the costs associated with community service! Gee if I can't pay the monthly amount, how do you expect me to pay those costs? And not everyone who collects or has collected welfare or food stamps or had help with daycare are scumbags. Alot of people on here need a grip on reality.


So what are we can commit crimes,then claim that you are indigent and then not face any consequences for your actions! All the while you are standing in front of us buying your junk food with food stamps at the check out line and paying cash for your booze and cigarettes!!! I am sorry ,but if the ACLU wants a fight, we as hard working tax paying citizens need to put an end to all the fee loading going on in this country!!

John Harville

The courts have payment plans.... but these judges aren't using them.