Columbus is host to the National Hockey League All Star game this week-end. The NHL showcase will bring thousands fans and visitors to the city as well as international media attention.
Poor Ohioans Jailed For Non-Payment Of Court Fines
The Ohio ACLU said some Ohioans are being wrongfully jailed because theyâ€™re too poor to pay court-imposed fines. WOSU reports seven courts received letters Thursday detailing the allegations.
An Ohio ACLU investigation uncovered seven municipal or mayorâ€™s courts that are not following state law when they jail defendants for failing to pay court-imposed fines without first holding a hearing to determine whether theyâ€™re indigent.
Spokesman Mike Brickner, who suspects this is a statewide issue, said the ACLU observed several hearings in Norwalk Municipal Court in which defendants were held in contempt of court for failing to pay fines.
â€œThe judge never asked whether they could afford to pay it,” Brickner said. “Many people said they couldnâ€™t afford to pay it. And the answer was always, â€˜well, it doesnâ€™t matter. You either have to pay or you go to jail.â€™â€
State law also requires courts to apply a $50 daily credit toward jailed defendantsâ€™ unpaid fees. According to the ACLU, some courts are issuing credits below the state-required daily minimum, while others failing to apply them at all.
And Brickner said the investigation found many defendants accumulated additional fees â€“ contempt of court fees, arrest warrant fees â€“ that were tacked on to the fines they already could not pay.
â€œAnd so what weâ€™re seeing is, that these people then have this constant threat of incarceration,” Brickner said.
Brickner said the ACLU is calling on the Ohio Supreme Court to issue guidelines.
â€œTo make sure that all of the courts and mayorâ€™s courts across the state know the rules, and that those judges and those courts that continue to flout the law are held accountable for doing so.â€
Mansfield Municipal Court was among the seven courts to receive a letter about the allegations. Judge Jerry Ault (pronounced â€œaltâ€) said theyâ€™re looking into the allegations, but Ault declined to comment any further.