Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · April 4, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) condemns the city of Navasota and its municipal court for its grossly inappropriate and unconstitutional actions toward a Texas mother. Navasota’s issuance of a fine and arrest warrant stemming from some unreturned library books violates the U.S. Constitution and caused a well-meaning woman to be convicted of a misdemeanor crime.  

“The constitution prohibits fines that are grossly disproportionate to an offense,” said IJ Senior Attorney Ari Bargil. “Here, it’s quite obvious what a proportionate penalty would have been: $60 to cover the cost of the two overdue books. Instead, Kaylee was threatened with jail time and assessed fines, fees, and related costs of nearly $600. That’s almost ten times the cost of the books, and an eye-popping sum for a harmless violation.” 

As KRPC 2 reported, Grimes County resident Kaylee Morgan, a stay-at-home mother of five, checked out several books from the Navasota Public Library in March 2023. The books were for her children, whom she was homeschooling. At the time, Kaylee was experiencing complications with her pregnancy, causing her to fail to return the loaned books. Kaylee ultimately returned all the books, according to KBTX

Kaylee assumed there was no issue until she went to renew her driver’s license. That’s when she discovered she had a $570 fine stemming from the overdue books. Kaylee was never warned about the overdue books. The library never called her, and its notices were sent to one of Kaylee’s old addresses. Nevertheless, Kaylee appeared in Navasota Municipal Court last week where she pleaded guilty to violating Navasota’s library ordinance.  

The city of Navasota’s conduct in this case violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects Americans like Kaylee from abusive fines and fees. Fining Kaylee $570, suspending her driver’s license, and issuing an arrest warrant for her are grossly disproportionate responses to the infraction Kaylee committed. Kaylee is a mother of five, who—without the support of a GoFundMe page—wouldn’t have been able to fight this case. Yet because Kaylee failed to return some library books on time, a harmless violation, she now has a misdemeanor conviction on her record and faces hundreds of dollars in fines and fees. 

IJ is the nation’s leader in litigating against fines and fees abuses. IJ has sued dozens of local governments who abuse their power to enforce traffic, property code, and other ordinances. Our litigation includes Timbs v. Indiana, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s protection against excessive fines applies to state and local governments.