ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) applauded the Department of Justice (DOJ) for updating its guidance to state and local governments on the issuance of fines and fees, while also urging DOJ to do even more to rein in policing for profit.
In 2016, DOJ issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to state and local governments that highlighted the “illegal enforcement of fines and fees,” particularly as it applied to indigent defendants. Last week, DOJ updated that letter to expand on how fines and fees abuse violates the Constitution, discussing when fines become unconstitutionally excessive, and explaining that courts, prosecutors, and police cannot have a financial interest in the fines and fees they impose. The updated letter specifically references lawsuits filed by IJ in this field, including its 2019 United States Supreme Court victory on the issue of excessive fines; its ongoing fight against Brookside, Alabama’s notorious policing for profit scheme; its challenge to Doraville, Georgia’s practice of using traffic and code enforcement to generate revenue for the city; and its 2016 victory striking down Albuquerque’s unconstitutional civil forfeiture system, under which the city seized people’s property without charging them with a crime and used the proceeds to pay the salaries of the individuals doing the seizing.
“The point of policing should be to serve and protect, not to extort and collect revenue for the government’s coffers,” said IJ Attorney Joshua House. “We’re very happy to see DOJ taking the issue of fines and fees abuse seriously, and we encourage the Department to continue working with state and local governments to end it altogether.”