In December of 2010, Tim Fugatt was pulled over for having expired tags. He’d been returning home from the hospital, where his infant son, Cole, was receiving treatment for a rare brain disease. His wife, Kristy, had also been ticketed, and they were ordered to appear before a municipal court. After they told the judge about their son’s condition, the judge found them both “not guilty” — but ordered them to pay a fine of $500 nevertheless, for court costs.
Because of their time at the hospital, Tim was unable to maintain regular employment and fell behind on scheduled payments. The city then turned over their case to a private probation company, Judicial Corrections Services (JCS), who pursed the payments. When Fugatt and his wife couldn’t pay, they were arrested.
Welcome to 2014. It reads a lot like 1814, doesn’t it? And the situation with the Fugatt’s is just one of many, in this libertarian age of debtor’s prisons and wage slavery.
Fugatt told PBS Newshour that he “felt completely like a criminal. I mean I didn’t sell drugs. I didn’t break into anyone’s home. I didn’t kill anybody. I had an expired tag.” He added that “I had a dying child, no steady job at that point because we were back and forth to the hospital. I was doing what I could do.”
If this sounds questionable, that’s because you know more about civics than the average libertarian who supports this sort of thing in the name of “personal responsibility” does. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that “a jail term [being given] solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full” was unconstitutional. But, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s David Dinelli, that’s precisely what happened to Tim and Kristy Fugatt, among many others.
Speaking to NewsHour, Dinelli said that, “Everyone thinks that debtor’s prison is over.” He added “It isn’t.”
He continued, saying “As a matter of practice — and in some cases, policy — the courts ask one question, ‘Can you pay the fine?’ If you can’t then you have to do what’s called ‘sit it out in jail.’ That is unconstitutional unless the court first conducts an inquiry into whether they’re indigent and the causes for their inability to pay the fine.”
The Fugatts have also incurred further penalties and fees. What started as a $500 court fee to cover three charges that they were found “not guilty” over snowballed into an amount larger than the $1,300 that they’ve paid to the Childersburg Court — not including what they owe JCS.
Private prisons, private collection agencies, private probation agencies — did nobody pay attention to cyberpunk? Nobody?
Watch the entire report below: