The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear a challenge of a Minnesota case emblematic of a national trend to extract fees and fines from people who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system, whether they are found guilty or not, reports the New York Times. Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.
An unusual coalition of civil rights organizations, criminal defense lawyers and conservative and libertarian groups have challenged these sorts of policies, saying they confiscate private property without constitutional protections and lock poor people into a cycle of fines, debts and jail. The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a separate challenge to a Colorado law that makes it hard for criminal defendants whose convictions were overturned to obtain refunds of fines and restitution, often amounting to thousands of dollars. That case, Nelson v. Colorado, will be argued on Jan. 9. The Colorado law requires people who want their money back to file a separate lawsuit and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.