It used to happen all the time: Debtors who couldn’t afford to pay their bills were sent to prison. This spiteful practice ended centuries ago, but given that we live in an age where a lot of Americans have high debts and low incomes, news pieces periodically raise the issue again. This time an article on Alternet tells us how municipalities are getting in on the act. Here are a few practices to watch out for:
- Broke municipalities using the justice system to extract money from the poorest segments of society. For example, people who can’t pay a traffic ticket face seeing their driver’s licenses revoked. If they’re caught driving without a license, in some states, they can go to jail. Worse the municipality will charge them for their stay. Of course, wealthier people can simply pay the fine and never end up trapped in the system to begin with.
- Other times, debt collectors and other private entities will file lawsuits against debtors, fail to serve them (or intentionally serve them at the wrong address), and then demand for a warrant with bail set at the cost of the original fees.
- In still other instances, the alleged perpetrator of a minor offense will be given the wrong court date, and the penalties increase.
Decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that imprisoning a person on probation for failing to pay a fine was unconstitutional, but whether that holding applies to people who can’t pay a traffic ticket is unclear. Usually the law uses the concept of “notice” to assume that in a democratic society everyone who breaks it knows precisely what the law is. Unfortunately, in practice it doesn’t matter if we know in advance that people can’t afford to pay fines. It certainly doesn’t help when fiscally constrained municipalities are using the criminal justice system to cover their deficits. Obviously, the rich won’t have to worry as much.
Whether these types of problems happen in Nevada isn’t clear, but if you’re at the edge of your financial tether, you should discuss your situation with a Las Vegas bankruptcy attorney. Getting out from your debt might help you build up a cushion of savings to deal with an unpredicted encounter with the law.
For more questions about bankruptcy in Las Vegas, please feel free to contact an experienced Haines & Krieger Las Vegas bankruptcy attorney for a free initial consultation. Call us at 1-702-880-5554 to set up your free consultation.