Case: ACLU Out-of-Court Settlement with the City of Colorado Springs re: Persons Jailed in Lieu of Fines

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Filed Date: Oct. 22, 2015

Closed Date: 2016

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Case Summary

On October 22, 2015, the ACLU of Colorado (“ACLU”) wrote a letter to the City of Colorado Springs claiming that the Colorado Springs Municipal Court (“CSMC”) was engaging in the incarceration of poor people for failure to pay fines in violation of both state and federal law. This letter was the result of the ACLU’s investigation, which encompassed over 800 cases since January 2014. In each of these cases, the CSMC converted what was initially a fine for a violation municipal ordinance into a “p…

On October 22, 2015, the ACLU of Colorado (“ACLU”) wrote a letter to the City of Colorado Springs claiming that the Colorado Springs Municipal Court (“CSMC”) was engaging in the incarceration of poor people for failure to pay fines in violation of both state and federal law. This letter was the result of the ACLU’s investigation, which encompassed over 800 cases since January 2014. In each of these cases, the CSMC converted what was initially a fine for a violation municipal ordinance into a “pay or serve” sentence that ordered a defendant to either pay the amount due or serve time in jail at a rate of $50 per day. These sentences, ACLU argued, were a direct violation of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Equal Protection Clause, the Colorado Constitution, and a 2014 state law (HB 14-1061) that banned debtors’ prison practices. (The ACLU noted that it had previously sent CSMC a letter detailing the requirements of the new statute in 2014.)

The ACLU’s investigation also found that two-thirds of the “pay or serve” sentences defendants were jailed for nonjailable offenses, such as solicitation near streets or highways and violations of park curfew, that were supposed to be punishable only by a fine and never by jail. For example, the ACLU highlighted the case of a 45-year-old homeless man who was locked up for more than 90 days in the past year on consecutive “pay or serve” sentences for violating an ordinance that expressly excludes a passive act of solicitation such as the one that the man partook in. Furthermore, the maximum punishment for violating that ordinance was a $500 fine, not jail. The ACLU found that this case was just one of the over 200 “pay or serve” sentences for violation of the same ordinance.

When the ACLU reviewed the court transcripts as part of the investigation, it found that the CSMC told defendants that they were not entitled to appointed counsel at a hearing because their charges were nonjailable. The ACLU asserted that this practice violated the Sixth Amendment because CSMC then sent those defendants to jail anyway on a “pay or serve” sentence. In light of its findings, the ACLU called on the City of Colorado Springs to immediately stop jailing people for inability to pay their fines or court fees, provide compensation to individuals who were jailed per a “pay or serve” sentence because of their poverty, and undertake significant changes in the CSMC’s policies and practices to comply with federal and state law. The ACLU also urged the City of Colorado Springs to repeal a city ordinance that purportedly authorized the CSMC to convert fines to jail time when a defendant fails to pay a fine. The ACLU closed the letter by asking the City of Colorado Springs to reply to the letter by November 5, 2015.

In April 2016, the ACLU and City of Colorado Springs entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement. As part of the agreement, the City of Colorado Springs committed to repeal or amend the problematic city ordinance. The City also agreed to require all judges of the CSMC to permanently cease imposing “pay or serve” sentences or any other sentence that converts fines and/or costs to jail time and require that all judges of CSMC to not incarcerate anyone because of failure to pay a fine, costs, or any other monetary amount absent a lawful procedural process. The City agreed to provide a detailed written account to the ACLU of all steps taken to effectuate all these promises by April 30, 2016.

The City of Colorado Springs also agreed to make a settlement payment that totaled just over $103,000: around $13,000 was issued and divided among the four plaintiffs that the ACLU represented, $37,625 to compensate eligible individuals, other than the ACLU’s plaintiffs, that CSMC jailed solely for a nonjailable offense at any time since January 1, 2014, and the remaining amount to the ACLU for attorneys’ fee.

Following the settlement agreement, on September 14, 2015, the City of Colorado Springs' Police Department discontinued issuing summonses for solicitation on or near street or highway and restricted the interpretation of solicitation to include only active or aggressive solicitation and not passive solicitation. The City of Colorado Springs also repealed and amended the problematic city ordinances as agreed upon.

Summary Authors

MJ Koo (3/23/2017)


Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Silverstein, Mark (Colorado)

Wallace, Rebecca Teitelbaum (Colorado)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Massey, Wynetta (Colorado)

Suthers, John W. (Colorado)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Silverstein, Mark (Colorado)

Wallace, Rebecca Teitelbaum (Colorado)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Massey, Wynetta (Colorado)

Suthers, John W. (Colorado)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Colorado Springs Police Department Bulletin on Solicitation

ACLU out-of-court settlement with the City of Colorado Springs re. persons jailed in lieu of fines

Sept. 14, 2015 Other

ACLU's Letter to the City of Colorado Springs

ACLU out-of-court settlement with the City of Colorado Springs re. persons jailed in lieu of fines

Oct. 22, 2015 Correspondence

Settlement Agreement

ACLU out-of-court settlement with the City of Colorado Springs re. persons jailed in lieu of fines

April 27, 2016 Settlement Agreement

Resources

Title Description External URL

Colorado Springs Agrees to $100K Settlement to Compensate Victims of Debtors’ Prison Practices

ACLU

The City of Colorado Springs has agreed, as part of a $103,000 settlement with the ACLU of Colorado, to stop converting impoverished defendants’ fines into jail time, to stop sentencing defendants to… May 5, 2016 https://aclu-co.org/colorado-springs-agrees-100k-settlement-compensate-victims-debtors-prison-practices/

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Colorado

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Key Dates

Filing Date: Oct. 22, 2015

Closing Date: 2016

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Plaintiffs are four individuals that ACLU represented who were sentenced to jail for offenses that were punishable by a fine.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

The City of Colorado Springs (El Paso), City

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Special Case Type(s):

Out-of-court

Availably Documents:

None of the above

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Attorneys fees

Damages

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Private Settlement Agreement

Amount Defendant Pays: $103,000

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Fetus Identity

General:

Access to lawyers or judicial system

Courts

Disciplinary procedures

Over/Unlawful Detention

Placement in detention facilities

Poverty/homelessness