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Case Name West v. City of Santa Fe CJ-TX-0011
Docket / Court 3:16-cv-00309 ( S.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Policing
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On November 3, 2016, three individuals under threat of being jailed for failure to pay fines to the City of Santa Fe, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. They sued the City of Santa Fe, the Municipal Judge, and the Chief of Police under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ... read more >
On November 3, 2016, three individuals under threat of being jailed for failure to pay fines to the City of Santa Fe, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. They sued the City of Santa Fe, the Municipal Judge, and the Chief of Police under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants run a modern-day debtors' prison to raise revenue for the City. They claimed that city officials have colluded on an unconstitutional two-tiered system of justice by which the City and Municipal Judge agreed to raise the costs of the traffic and other misdemeanor fines to boost revenue, and the City extracts payments from local residents. Police officers regularly jail people who fail to pay their fines without giving them access to a lawyer or the change to mount a legal defense, nor are they given the opportunity to see a judge for the constitutionally mandated hearing on their ability to pay. Moreover, the police chief makes jail intolerable, giving people he detains too little food to eat and depriving them of medical care. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the plaintiffs asked the court for injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys fees. They also sought to certify a class.

The plaintiffs alleged that the revenue-generating scheme begins with Municipal Court proceedings, a court that's jurisdiction is limited to tickets for class C misdemeanors. These offenses are defined by Texas law as "nonjailable," "fine only" offenses, punishable by a fine up to $500. For an individual unable to make timely payments in full, the Municipal Court issues a "capias pro fine" warrant for failure to pay a fine. Individuals who have a capias pro fine have two options: pay in full or turn themselves in to the police. Police also search for people subject to capias pro fine warrants, sometimes arresting people at their homes in front of family, friends, and neighbors. Though police have the option of taking such individuals before a court, they do not. Instead they transfer those individuals over to the police chief and book them into jail where they will be held until they pay their debt in full or satisfy the fines with "jail credit."

Once in jail, the allegations continued, individuals are subjected to unsafe conditions without proper food. The complaint terms this the "Hungry Man policy," and alleges that jailed individuals are fed one Pop Tart for breakfast, one Pop Tart for lunch, and a frozen meal, such as a Hungry Man meal, for dinner. This amounts to only about 750 calories a day, which is less than half of the calories the average sedentary adult requires, and less than a third of the calories sedentary young men require.

Judge George C Hanks, Jr denied class certification without prejudice on September 18, 2017, without providing a detailed reason in the order. On October 11, one of the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed his claims. The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint on October 23.

The case is ongoing.

Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 12/02/2016
Virginia Weeks - 03/23/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Corrections
Law-enforcement
General
Funding
Over/Unlawful Detention
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Santa Fe
Plaintiff Description Individuals who have been, or fear they will be, jailed for failure to pay their outstanding fines to the City of Santa Fe
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
3:16-cv-00309 (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0011-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/19/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-TX-0011-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/03/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 43]
CJ-TX-0011-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Hanks, George Carol Jr. (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0011-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Robertson, Rebecca Lynn (Texas)
CJ-TX-0011-0001 | CJ-TX-0011-9000
Trigilio, Trisha (Texas)
CJ-TX-0011-0001 | CJ-TX-0011-0002 | CJ-TX-0011-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Giles, Norman Ray (Texas)
CJ-TX-0011-9000
Helfand, William Scott (Texas)
CJ-TX-0011-9000

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