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Case Name ACLU Out-of-Court Settlement with the City of Colorado Springs re: Persons Jailed in Lieu of Fines CJ-CO-0003
Docket / Court NA ( No Court )
State/Territory Colorado
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On October 22, 2015, the ACLU of Colorado (“ACLU”) wrote a letter to the City of Colorado Springs claiming that the Colorado Springs Municipal Court (“CSMC”) was engaging in the incarceration of poor people for failure to pay fines in violation of both state and federal law. This letter was ... read more >
On October 22, 2015, the ACLU of Colorado (“ACLU”) wrote a letter to the City of Colorado Springs claiming that the Colorado Springs Municipal Court (“CSMC”) was engaging in the incarceration of poor people for failure to pay fines in violation of both state and federal law. This letter was the result of the ACLU’s investigation, which encompassed over 800 cases since January 2014. In each of these cases, the CSMC converted what was initially a fine for a violation municipal ordinance into a “pay or serve” sentence that ordered a defendant to either pay the amount due or serve time in jail at a rate of $50 per day. These sentences, ACLU argued, were a direct violation of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Equal Protection Clause, the Colorado Constitution, and a 2014 state law (HB 14-1061) that banned debtors’ prison practices. (The ACLU noted that it had previously sent CSMC a letter detailing the requirements of the new statute in 2014.)

The ACLU’s investigation also found that two-thirds of the “pay or serve” sentences defendants were jailed for nonjailable offenses, such as solicitation near streets or highways and violations of park curfew, that were supposed to be punishable only by a fine and never by jail. For example, the ACLU highlighted the case of a 45-year-old homeless man who was locked up for more than 90 days in the past year on consecutive “pay or serve” sentences for violating an ordinance that expressly excludes a passive act of solicitation such as the one that the man partook in. Furthermore, the maximum punishment for violating that ordinance was a $500 fine, not jail. The ACLU found that this case was just one of the over 200 “pay or serve” sentences for violation of the same ordinance.

When the ACLU reviewed the court transcripts as part of the investigation, it found that the CSMC told defendants that they were not entitled to appointed counsel at a hearing because their charges were nonjailable. The ACLU asserted that this practice violated the Sixth Amendment because CSMC then sent those defendants to jail anyway on a “pay or serve” sentence. In light of its findings, the ACLU called on the City of Colorado Springs to immediately stop jailing people for inability to pay their fines or court fees, provide compensation to individuals who were jailed per a “pay or serve” sentence because of their poverty, and undertake significant changes in the CSMC’s policies and practices to comply with federal and state law. The ACLU also urged the City of Colorado Springs to repeal a city ordinance that purportedly authorized the CSMC to convert fines to jail time when a defendant fails to pay a fine. The ACLU closed the letter by asking the City of Colorado Springs to reply to the letter by November 5, 2015.

In April 2016, the ACLU and City of Colorado Springs entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement. As part of the agreement, the City of Colorado Springs committed to repeal or amend the problematic city ordinance. The City also agreed to require all judges of the CSMC to permanently cease imposing “pay or serve” sentences or any other sentence that converts fines and/or costs to jail time and require that all judges of CSMC to not incarcerate anyone because of failure to pay a fine, costs, or any other monetary amount absent a lawful procedural process. The City agreed to provide a detailed written account to the ACLU of all steps taken to effectuate all these promises by April 30, 2016.

The City of Colorado Springs also agreed to make a settlement payment that totaled just over $103,000: around $13,000 was issued and divided among the four plaintiffs that the ACLU represented, $37,625 to compensate eligible individuals, other than the ACLU’s plaintiffs, that CSMC jailed solely for a nonjailable offense at any time since January 1, 2014, and the remaining amount to the ACLU for attorneys’ fee.

Following the settlement agreement, on September 14, 2015, the City of Colorado Springs' Police Department discontinued issuing summonses for solicitation on or near street or highway and restricted the interpretation of solicitation to include only active or aggressive solicitation and not passive solicitation. The City of Colorado Springs also repealed and amended the problematic city ordinances as agreed upon.

MJ Koo - 03/23/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Courts
Disciplinary procedures
Over/Unlawful Detention
Placement in detention facilities
Poverty/homelessness
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Out-of-court
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) The City of Colorado Springs
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs are four individuals that ACLU represented who were sentenced to jail for offenses that were punishable by a fine.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filing Year 2015
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Colorado Springs Police Department Bulletin on Solicitation
CJ-CO-0003-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 09/14/2015
Source: ACLU
ACLU's Letter to the City of Colorado Springs
CJ-CO-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/22/2015
Source: ACLU
Settlement Agreement
CJ-CO-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/27/2016
Source: ACLU
Plaintiff's Lawyers Silverstein, Mark (Colorado)
CJ-CO-0003-0002 | CJ-CO-0003-0003
Wallace, Rebecca Teitelbaum (Colorado)
CJ-CO-0003-0002 | CJ-CO-0003-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Massey, Wynetta (Colorado)
CJ-CO-0003-0003
Suthers, John W. (Colorado)
CJ-CO-0003-0003

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