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. 


BW1's picture

Alternatively, defendants could be sentenced to jail instead of fines in the first place, with the option to pay a fine in lieu of incarceration. Or just sentence them to jail time, period. When a defendant has no job, they have more time than money, so give them a burden they can meet.

The difference is, they'd be sentenced to a set period, rather than sitting in jail until the fine was paid.


The problem starts with the courts refusing to put the criminals in jail and lets them out with simple fines, knowing they can't afford the fines. I'm not sure that the ACLU letter would refer to someone who was given a fine in lue of jailtime and under that condition if they did not pay the fine the jail time would automatically commence. That would be a different situation. If the courts would put the bad guys in jail in th efirst place, this would not be an issue. O'Brien has always been one to let the bad guys go with a fine or slap on the wrist. Now, he needs to start collecting money - so this is happening. Also, you don't want drug testing for welfare people - why not stop welfare until criminals pay fines???

BW1's picture

Absolutely. The point is that if you sentence them to jail in the first place, it'a fixed sentence.


There is a strong flavor of feminist bias in this letter, regardless of the merit of the argument. I find it insulting to violate the centuries-long practice of using the male gender as comprehensive. Ignoring the principles of the English language weakens the stature of the effort.


Seriously.....If you can't pay your fines, don't break the law. Even better...Find a job and maybe you won't have the time to think about it. I think this has to be one of the most stupid things I have ever heard the ACLU or any other entity come up with. I didn't even take the time to read the PDF. The article enraged me enough. Fine, if it is a non-violent offender, include community service as one of options as opposed to paying fines. Tasks that no one wants.


Please read the Constitution. It will make you smarter.

Pterocarya frax...

It is hilarious when conservatives rail on and on about the gubmint stealin' their rights, and destroying the Constitution. Then when the ACLU steps up to defend those rights, those conservative brains just explode.

swiss cheese kat

You would be the first in line to give up your 1st amendment right in a trade for others to give up their 2nd amendment right?


If a defendant is found to be indigent. Don't impose a fine which he cannot pay. Another punishment should be used like community service, this would be especially useful for the unemployed who would have time to carry out their community service. Space in jail should be saved for the dangerous criminals.


I just read through all the comments here, and this one absolutely makes sense. I understand how many people think that not jailing a debtor is tantamount to getting off 'scot-free', as it were, but to jail such people is illegal and pointless. Your suggestion, Mum-of-One, is an excellent resolution to the problem.


I agree, make them go to community service instead of paying a fine if they can't afford it. I don't think they should go to jail if they have proof they can't afford to pay, but I do think they still need to be held accountable... Community service sounds perfect!


Good post, Mum-of-One!


mcdonalds is hiring! maybe the courts should have applications readily available at sentencing. once sentenced they give these idiots an application tell them to get a job and then attach their wages.

i know its a little much to ask people to be responsible for their actions!!

John Harville

Mikel... YOU quit your present job and go to work at McDonalds 30 hours a week at 7.85/hour with no benefits. Freeze your savings and checking accounts and live ONLY on your McDonald's wages.
Hellsbells! You're not wo/man enough to do it!


mikel you are assuming that all of the defendants are idiots. How judgemental! One can lose everything due to illness, injury and personal tragedy in their lives. I do hope that if any of the above does happen to you that someone somewhere has some compassion for you. Or do you think it would be fair to class you as an idiot too? Maybe you should practice on an application for McDonalds now so that you can be ready just in case the unthinkable happens! Good luck.


i guess i should not have assumed that all of these people are unemployed. so, where is the wage garnishment for those that are employed?? problem solved for those individuals.


Why doesn't the ACLU come to support Perkins residents who are being deceived in give up their right to vote on school buildings by a superintendent and school board.

You must vote "no" on the May operating levy or you are accepting the loss of your vote on school buildings. This will be my first negative vote on education.


It's very simple. "Being deceived" as you call it, is not unconstitutional. However, putting some one in jail for failing to pay a debt is specifically prohibited by the Constitution. Big difference.

Julie R.

I heard this was all over the news on T.V. last night. They said Erie County was the worst followed by Cuyahoga County.

your babies Daddy's picture
your babies Daddy

simple enough at the time a sentencing offer them to pay within 48 hours or take their time in jail.

Julie R.

I think some of you commenters are missing the fact that this is ILLEGAL. To reiterate, it's ILLEGAL for judges and courts to violate U.S. and state constitution by sending people to jail for not paying fines ....... so instead of being critical of the people they are sending to jail, why not question instead why there are so many judges in Erie County that think they don't have to follow the law.


Some simpletons don't care. Wait until it happens to them and they will plead for help. Illegal is illegal. The law is the law except for some corrupt judges, prosecutors and corrupt police. Also there are those who bear false witness against innocent people.


If you don't want to pay court fines, don't get in trouble in the first place.

Julie R.

If you want to be a judge and take an oath to uphold the law, then uphold it.



For some reason people cannot grasp this simple concept. No one is responsible for their own action, it's alway someone else's fault.


Not all who go to court are guilty.

John Harville

Centauri... How DARE you insert THAT sick fact? Judges and juries make mistakes?


Part of the reason for this TRAVESTY is the concept of "Prison for Profit". Look up CCA (Corrections Corp America); creating incentives for incarceration. CCA last year made an offer to cash-strapped States to "handle" imprisonment for a new LOW LOW PRICE; provided the States would guarantee occupancy rates! Hhhmmm........


"Prison for Profit" More ways to throw innocent people into prison and severe prison sentences for minor violations of laws. More laws will be passed to increase the populations of these private prisons. The rich and powerful at work making money for themselves.

Have you ever wondered why a person goes to prison for fraud against the insurance companies but if an insurance company commits fraud against a policy holder, it is "bad faith" and a civil offense? Check most laws and the rich and powerful get free passes.


I guess my question is, if you get a speeding ticket, does this mean that you don't have to pay it? If I buy some clothes and put it on credit, then decide not to pay, that's ok? After all, what can they do? Take the worn clothes back? There are lots of things I don't understand about this. To me, it sounds like those that already get something for nothing, will get more.