NAACP Hits County Commission Vote To Set New $45 Charge On Criminal Defendants

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County chapter of the NAACP has hit a decision by the County Commission to impose a new $45 fine on criminal defendants.

Proceeds go $21 each to the Partnership of Families, ChIldren and Adults and the Childrens Advocacy Center with the county getting $3.

Voting in favor were Chester Bankston, Sabrena Smedley, Marty Haynes, Jim Fields and Joe Graham. Greg Beck and Warren Mackey passed. Randy Fairbanks and Tim Boyd were not present for the vote.

An NCCA resolution says, "n the aftermath of the events which occurred in Ferguson, Missouri throughout 2014, one of the more alarming patterns the country witnessed was the over-reliance of courts and municipalities to rely upon fees, fines, and other forms of legal financial obligations to fund basic daily operations. As an effect, many members of the legal community, scholars, civil rights organizations, and social justice advocates from around the nation began examining the best practices associated with criminal justice in their own localities and communities. The NAACP has been deeply rooted in this national push, and it's in this spirit that we embark upon stating these very pressing concerns as it relates to the decision to levy a $45.00 fine (RES. No. 816-11) on criminal defendants by the Hamilton County Commission. It's our contention that the logic and rationale behind this vote was limited, narrow and stringent. There are many valid resources, facts, and studies to support this vantage point.

 "In order to, 'help judicial actors protect individuals rights and avoid unnecessary harm,' including due process and equal protection, in March 2016 the Department of Justice issued a Dear Colleague Letter which sought to provide a basic set of constitutional principles relevant to the enforcement of fines and fees. Similarly, in 2012, The Conference of State Court Administrators issued a policy paper entitled, Courts are not Revenue Centers. The report acknowledges the budgetary constraints as well as the “constitutional, statutory and case law mandates” our justice system must contend with each day, but in addition to the 1986 standards associated with fees and revenues that the organization adopted, seven principles were detailed, which include : (1) That courts  be funded from general governmental revenue sources, enabling them to fulfill their constitutional mandates; (2) Fees and miscellaneous charges should consider accessibility to the courts and the barriers faced by  indigent litigants; (3) Adopt a principled, uniform and transparent set of standards. Likewise,  in conjunction with the Brennan Center for Justice and National Center for State Courts,  NPR conducted research that concluded that an increasingly large amount of defendants were being charged for services which had once been provided freely. The ACLU has cited similar concerns in their report, In for a Penny: The Rise of America's New Debtor's Prisons (2010). It contended that many States struggle to apply legal statutes such as Bearden v. Georgia.

"The County Commission was also ambivalent to the disparity rates, disproportionate ratios and disparate impact that affect the livelihood of the working poor, African- Americans and other minority groups.  According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 2.4 million individuals are currently incarcerated in prisons across America. 95 percent of these persons are non-violent offenders. Equally concerning, there are 100,000 juvenile detainees. Bureau statistics also detail that over 39 percent of those persons currently incarcerated are African-Americans, while over 60 percent are persons of color. African-American women are the fastest growing prison population, while more than 2,000 babies are born in prison annually. In addition, over 4.5 million are currently on probation or parole. Current policies gravitate towards retributive justice, which advances “proportionate” punishment and punitive penalties as the most effective ways to deter crime. This philosophy has led to more mass incarceration rates, privatization of the prisons, harsher sentencing laws, a rampant rate of recidivism, and a life of extreme hardship for ex-offenders. We advocate a “smart and safe" Restorative Justice based approach that focuses on: (I.) Rehabilitation; (II.) Reentry; (III.) Redemption.

"Another problematic aspect of the County Commission's decision is that they relied upon a narrow and stringent interpretation of state legal statute T.C.A. § 40-24-109. Equally concerning, it’s not clear what entity or individual would be subject to this fee. Without question, domestic violence and the family justice center are worthy agencies that deserve to be funded, but the primary emphasis of the statute is “victims of crime”, their families and survivors. The statute also stipulates that the assessment fee can go towards "victim of crime hotlines, information programs, individual, group and family counseling services, crisis intervention programs, support groups and other similar programs designed to assist victims of crime, their families or survivors."  While we adamantly oppose imposing fines and fees aimed at revenue generation, if this were the choice that had to be made it would have benefited from a less arbitrary, subjective and non-inclusive process. What if we would have considered the victims of gun violence who have had to endure countless surgeries and hospital fees, loss time in the workplace, the orphaned children, the broken families or the distraught communities where violence occurs? What if we would have helped the funeral directors who often risk going in the red in order to provide needy families decent burials? What if we would have considered implementing programs aimed at addressing violence like the Youth Promise Initiative? What if we would have followed the model of New Jersey and help implement a Fugitive Safe Surrender program so that thousands can regain life sustainability, opportunity and upward mobility? What if we would have funded a trade and vocational school, mentoring and counseling programs and faith based Initiatives?

"The Hamilton County Commission has set a dangerous precedent that the 'Ferguson Model' should be the standard that our courts and law enforcement look to implement and enforce. One of the true tragedies in America is that we have come accustomed to the fact that our courts, law enforcement and legal community, through revenue generation, act as corporations, annuities and amenities all unto themselves, in the ever present need to appease and align to the proponents of the prison industrial complex, to the detriment of the average citizen as an individual, and to the greater society as a whole. This sector of our society must be guardians of that what is in the public benefit, the common interest, vanguards of constitutional compliance, guardians of that which is regarded as good, unadulterated arbiters of the just, protectors of the peace, fair, objective and impartial dispensers of Justice. It is for these reasons that the Chattanooga-Hamilton County must respectfully dissent on the passage of Resolution No. 816-11.

"Respectfully, Chattanooga- Hamilton County NAACP"

The NAACP listed these resources for the resolution:

Americans for  Civil Liberties Union.,In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons (2010), available at: https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/InForAPenny_web.pdf.Brennan Center for Justice, Closing the Justice Gap (August 5th, 2016), available at:

http://www.brennancenter.org/issues/closing-justice-gap. 

Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice: Office for Access to Justice. “Dear Colleague Letter” (March 14, 2016), available at:  https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/832461/download.

Conference of State Court Administrators, 2011-2012 Policy Paper, Courts Are Not Revenue Centers (2012), available at:.https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2011-12-COSCA-report.pdf.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Criminal Justice fact sheet, (2008),  Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,  available at: www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Born Suspects, (2015), available at:  http://action.naacp.org/page/-/Criminal%20Justice/Born_Suspect_Report_final_web.pdf.

Shapiro, Joseph. “As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price.” NPR, 29th, May 2014. Retrieved August 2nd, 2016 from: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/19/312158516/increasing-court-fees-punish-the-poor.


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