Your recent editorial on unpaid court fines was incorrect in several respects.

No one in Maine is jailed because they are poor and unable to pay their fine. Only those people who can pay but do not, or who have agreed to pay their fines in increments, or at a later date, and fail to do so and fail to come to court to explain that failure may be arrested. People do go to jail for a failure to appear in court to explain why they have not paid their fine. The distinction is important.

No one spends time in jail “because they are too poor to pay court-ordered fines.” It is patently untrue “that if a person can’t pay the entire debt within 30 days, then … they can be sentenced to jail solely on that basis.” When a fine is ordered, the court asks whether the defendant can pay immediately, or whether they need a payment plan. Payment plans of as little as $5 a week are put in place.

A jail sentence for an unpaid fine only occurs after a hearing and a finding by the judge that the defendant has the ability to pay a fine and has failed to do so.

Second, judges do not have the “option of imposing a fine anytime someone is convicted of a criminal offense.” Judges are required to follow the law: With a mandatory minimum fine, there is no “option” under the law.

People who do not pay their fines do not “face late fees, which build up with every missed payment.” Only one late fee is assessed, no matter how many missed payments there are.

Please don’t mislead the public.

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