DOJ Finds Mississippi City, Police Department Unlawfully Jailing People over Unaffordable Fees


According to the DOJ, the city and police department of Lexington violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits wealth-based detention. Informing the city and police department of Lexington that it was illegal to jail someone for not paying fines and fees without first determining if they were able to do so.

The Department of Justice informed the police department of a Mississippi City that it was against the Constitution for people to be jailed if they had not paid their fines without first determining if they could pay them.

In a letter sent to the police and the city of Lexington by the DOJ on Thursday, it was revealed that current practices violate the 14th Amendment prohibiting wealth-based detention.

In the letter, it was stated that the Department of Justice had “recently provided guidance to state courts across the country” and noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeated holdings that the government could not imprison an individual because of their inability to pay a fine.

DOJ claims that the city and LPD have violated the guidelines above in two different ways. Before releasing those who have been arrested, they require them to pay any outstanding fines. They arrest and issue people for unpaid fines.

It is illegal to jail someone who cannot pay the fine.

In a DOJ press release from the Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney Kristen Clarke stated that there was a need to end America’s two-tiered system of justice where someone’s income determines whether they can walk free.

Clarke labeled the practice as “unlawful” and said that unjustly imposing fines or fees “traps people and families in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment”.

U.S. Todd Gee, an attorney from the Southern District of Mississippi, made a similar comment in which he stated that “one-third of Lexington’s residents live below the poverty line.”

At a meeting on Thursday with the DOJ, officials from Lexington’s city hall and police department assured them that they would work to collect fines and fees lawfully.

Gee said that unfair fines undermine rehabilitation goals, and the community’s trust in the justice system is eroded by unfair fees and fines. “Every step we take to restore community trust in fair and just policing will help us rebuild that. While our investigation is ongoing, Lexington and LPD can take these steps.

The DOJ has launched an investigation into the police department of the city to determine whether there are “systemic” violations of federal and state law and constitutional rights, including the use of force and discriminatory practices, such as stops, searches, and arrests, and the right to free speech.

The investigation began in November 2023.

In the letter, it stated that “even though the investigation was ongoing, the Justice Department determined that it was more important to identify these violations as soon as possible rather than waiting until the conclusion of the investigation. ”

DOJ officials met with city and police leaders on Thursday to discuss concerns about imprisonment for unpaid fines and fees. The Lexington authorities informed them that they would ensure that fees and fines were collected legally.