Friday, August 31, 2012

Municipal Courts Creating Debtors Prisons

Debtor's prisons have been illegal for years right? Well, not exactly if you look at some of the practices in municipal courts. The town of Harpersville, Alabama has been criticized for some very unsavory practices that lead to a number of folks incarcerated simply because they could not pay a debt. Fortunately, Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Hub Harrington, stepped in and halted those practices with a recent court order.
The judge found evidence that the city would turn over to the private probation company, Judicial Corrections Services, cases in which Municipal Court defendants could not immediately pay the court-imposed fine and costs. Many defendants later were locked up, some on bogus failure-to-appear complaints, resulting in more charges that led to more fines, court costs -- and more debt, the judge wrote.
Unfortunately, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg as there are several other towns and cities in the State of Alabama that are said to have similar practices. The good news is that the Harpersville situation will likely encourage others who have been in this predicament to speak up and expose those practices.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Excessive Force Cases

We get a number of calls about potential excessive force cases. However, we only are able to take on a handful of these cases each year for a number of reasons. A couple of observations we would like to share and some factors that we consider when we evaluate a case: 1. In Alabama it is very tough to pierce the veil of immunity that the State and the Counties are afforded. While the standards of immunity for municipal governments is lower it still can be difficult. 2. We generally only file excessive force cases in Federal Court.Generally, Federal Court cases are more expensive. 3. Law enforcement officials often fail to follow procedure in using force but unless there are quantified physical damages it makes it a very difficult case for us to handle and receive any sort of settlement for our clients. 4. It is very hard to have a successful case without witnesses to the action. If someone witnesses an action it is recommended that you obtain all their contact information immediately. 5. These cases take months to investigate before we can make a decision as to if a lawsuit is warranted.