The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission did the right thing recently by taking a stand against judges who abuse people's Constitutional rights, as newspaper columnist John Archibald correctly pointed out in a column posted on AL.com ("Is this a rare win for fairness and justice in Alabama?" March 10, 2014). The Commission ruled March 4th on the role of judges in Alabama in response to what was happening to people who went to court in Harpersville, Alabama.
Before the notorious court in the Town of Harpersville was shut down in 2012, the court seemed to treat citizens differently depending on how much money they had. Archibald writes "that poor people were charged more simply because they could not pay, that they were jailed, sometimes for long periods, because they couldn't afford inflating fees. They were not assigned lawyers, given their day in court, or a voice."
In essence, these people charged with a crime were kept behind bars in a sort of modern day debtors' prison simply because they could not afford to hire a lawyer or pay petty traffic fines. This antiquated system persisted partly because the court used a private probation company that "repeatedly violated rights of defendants," Archibald wrote. All of this might come as a shock to many people, but it has a familiar ring to our Birmingham criminal defense law firm, which has worked with far too many people whose Constitutional rights have been violated.
Shelby County Circuit Judge Hub Harrington first brought such irregularities to light in 2012. In another article written that year by John Archibald about Harrington's assessment of the Town of Harpersville's court, Archibald wrote that Harrington "described a system in which poor people are charged more because they can't initially pay petty traffic fines. Some are jailed -- for months -- because they can't pay ballooning, "unconscionable" fees. They are left without a lawyer, a day in court, or a voice." Harrington added that the court's barbaric practices were "disgraceful."
Judges Can No Longer Pass the Buck
But the latest ruling from the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission goes far beyond Harpersville's former court. This ruling makes it very clear that judges cannot pass the buck to private probation companies or other private corporations of any kind. Instead, judges "must exercise that authority to uphold the integrity, impartiality, and independence of the judiciary and the court system," according to the March 4th ruling by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission. And if a judge cannot manage to perform such duties, "the judge cannot serve and there can be no court," the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission ruled.
That means judges must respect defendants' Constitutional rights. That means the same rules apply to everyone in court. That means that people must receive their day in court and not simply be locked away for days or weeks just because they don't have enough money to pay a questionable fine.
John Archibald hit the nail on the head when he wrote that "It's a great day for justice in Alabama." At Barclay Law, LLC, we agree wholeheartedly, and we hope the ruling by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission truly marks a turning point in Alabama's legal system.
If you need assistance with a legal matter in Alabama, contact Barclay Law, LLC today. Call 866-584-1023 or 205-488-2797 or fill out our online inquiry form and schedule a free consultation. Barclay Law, LLC accepts all major credit cards.