Judge dismisses suit objecting to paying a fine with jail time

Judge dismisses suit objecting to paying a fine with jail time

Federal District Judge Mary Lou Robinson dismissed today a civil rights lawsuit challenging what it called "pay or lay" sentences assessed by the city of Amarillo municipal court.

The lawsuit filed for five people by attorney Jeff Blackburn said the city had created "a modern day debtor's prison by imposing a jail sentence on persons who did not pay fines assessed for non-jailable offenses."

The city argued Blackburn did not present a plausible claim for relief.

"A plaintiff's claim for relief must contain 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" Robinson wrote in her ruling. "Although the pleading standard of (the law) does not require detailed factual allegations, it does require more than mere labels and conclusions."

Robinson points out the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures that guides the conduct of municipal courts says that after a defendant defaults on a fine, the judge can jail them if they have not made a good-faith effort to pay the fine or could have done so without hardship.

The people who filed the suit will have to pay the city of Amarillo's court expenses, according to the judgment that closed the case.

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