Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Further thoughts on Florida's courts

Related to the post Xanthippas put up yesterday about Florida's courts sending people to jail for failure to pay court fees, here's our dialog about it:

Nat-Wu: First off, didn't we abolish debtors prison? What difference does it make that the "creditor" is the court? Second, if the idea is that these people are costing the court money, how does it make sense that when they owe money, you throw them in jail where they cost the taxpayer even more?

Xanthippas: Yes we did, unless you owe the courts apparently. And yes it's costing more money to enforce draconian punishment for unpaid fees, then to simply raise taxes to pay for a judicial system. An efficient judiciary cannot be expected to substantially rely upon fees to meet necessary operating expenses; requiring that means that fees for small-time offenses will be jacked up on the people who can least afford to pay them, and that they'll go to jail for something as stupid as a couple hundred bucks in fines that are 13 years old. But you can think cheapskate taxpayers and slimy politicians who are afraid to raise taxes for this situation.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I'm not against people paying fines for being caught committing crimes. I'm against them paying the courts for having to deal with them. Not that guilty people shouldn't be punished, but as Xanthippas pointed out, if the courts rely on these fees, the temptation would be great to jack them up with no regard for any real punitive motivation. Besides which, if someone is convicted of a crime which is essentially monetary in nature, such as unpaid parking or speeding tickets, if they pay for them eventually and pay a penalty on top of that for having ignored those fees, then what exactly are they paying the court for beyond that? Sounds kind of like double jeopardy to me; people being penalized twice for the same crime. And the objection goes further. As Xanthippas also pointed out, essentially all they're doing is penalizing taxpayers by sending people to jail when they don't pay their fees! That's a double-negative, as in, both the loss of fees and expenditure of tax money on a prisoner go in red ink. What sense does it make?

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