The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is lauding a state Supreme Court proposal that could end unconstitutional "pay-or-stay" sentencing practices in courtrooms around the state.
“For too long, Michigan has had a two-tier system of justice: People who can pay their fines walk free, while people who are poor go to jail," said Miriam Aukerman, an ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "'Pay or stay' sentences are illegal, but they are still widely used. We applaud the Michigan Supreme Court for acting to end this shameful practice by proposing a court rule that will make clear to judges, lawyers, and people facing charges that no one should do time just because he or she is poor. This rule is a critical first step towards ending debtor’s prisons in Michigan.”
Last week, the Supreme Court issued a series of recommended amendments to state sentencing rules, including a proposal that would require courts to ascertain a defendant's ability to pay a fine before imposing a “pay-or-stay” sentence or incarcerating someone for nonpayment.
The recommendations come on the heels of an effort by the ACLU of Michigan to stop a Macomb County district court judge from continuing to levy illegal pay-or-stay sentences against indigent defendants. The court suggestions also come in the wake of the grusome jailhouse death of David Stojcevski, a Macomb County Jail inmate who had been thrown in jail for failure to pay court fees and fines. The ACLU of Michigan called for an expanded federal investigation into the death that would include a look at the pay-or-stay sentence that landed Stojcevski behind bars.