Contrary to the assertions of Mary Ann Lynch, there are far too many people in Maine’s jails for the sole reason that they are too poor to pay their fines (“Another View: Only those who can pay, but don’t, face jail time for unpaid fines,” April 3). Members of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers represent a number of such individuals.

To make up for budget shortfalls, the Maine Legislature has steadily increased fines and attached new fines to criminal violations. Most dangerous of the new fines created by the Legislature are the “minimum mandatory” fines, which are unwaivable by judges, even when an individual can prove he or she is unable to pay.

As criminal defense lawyers in the state of Maine, we have witnessed firsthand the devastating cycle that is triggered when an individual is too poor to pay his or her criminal fines: Upon failure to pay on a timely basis, an arrest warrant is often issued, then an individual is arrested and held in jail until he or she can go before a judge. At the same time, the individual’s driver’s license is suspended. In addition to paying the fine, the individual is penalized with a late fee and a fee to reinstate his or her license.

Further, the individual faces the real possibility of losing his or her job, because of time in jail and the loss of license – in turn making it much harder to earn the money needed to pay the fine. The next missed payment generally triggers another arrest, and the cycle continues. This amounts to a modern-day debtors’ prison, and a two-tiered justice system in which poor people face more severe punishment than people of means.

Maine’s system of assessing and collecting fines does little to benefit the state. In fact, the cost to the state of locking people up for unpaid fines often exceeds the amount they owe.

We urge the Maine Legislature to support L.D. 951, which would ban the jailing of individuals simply because they are unable to pay their fines – helping them to get back on their feet while freeing up state personnel and fiscal resources currently tied up in this never-ending cycle.

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