DETROIT (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a sweeping order to stop a Detroit-area judge from sending people to jail if they can't immediately pay fines for small offenses.
The ACLU's Michigan branch said it has found more evidence that Eastpointe Judge Carl Gerds III punished people with jail if they couldn't afford to pay fines in a lump sum. The U.S. Supreme Court has long said that "pay-or-stay" sentences are unconstitutional if defendants don't have money.
ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin said in a court filing last week that Gerds has created "a two-tier system of justice: persons of means pay money and remain free, whereas poor people who are unable to pay go to jail."
The ACLU intervened in July, and persuaded a higher court to stop the sentencing of a single mother, Donna Anderson, who couldn't afford to pay $455 for failing to have her dogs licensed. Since then, the group has found a dozen more cases.
Gerds won't comment on the ACLU's challenge. He also hasn't responded in court to the ACLU's request that he be ordered to end "pay-or-stay" sentences at Eastpointe District Court.
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5 in front of Macomb County Judge James Maceroni. However, ACLU attorney Michael Steinberg said "we're in discussions about possibly resolving this issue" with Gerds. He declined further comment.
Among the newly discovered cases, the ACLU said George Little was sentenced to 60 days in jail in July because he didn't have $1,200 to pay for driving with a suspended license. He had $200 and requested more time to come up with the rest.
In April, a group of Michigan experts, including many judges, published a report that said jail should only be considered when someone with the ability to pay fines fails to do so.
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