Fed court: NJ township violated defendant's right to counsel in fees/fines case

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04/02/2018, Litigation, Incarceration for Fees/Fines (incomplete)

In Kneisser v. McInerney, a New Jersey township was jailing defendants due to failure to pay municipal fines.  The case was particularly egregious because the township in question had a sign posted in the courtroom saying that people were required to pay their fines in full on the day of sentencing.  When the defendant said he couldn’t pay that day, the court told him to make a phone call, and when the defendant said he had no one to call, the court sentenced him to jail.  In its opinion, among other things, the court found that the imposition of jail was part of sentencing, not a subsequent “failure to pay a fine”, and therefore the Sixth Amendment applied.  The court also rejected the Township’s argument that the defendant’s waiver of counsel when the fine was imposed was also a waiver when the court subsequently sentenced him to jail.  Congratulations to the Marguerite Kneisser and the ACLU of New Jersey for their great work on this case! (we played a very small part in the early stages).  

The case has gotten some nice media coverage from the ABA Journal and Courthouse News Service.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes



The NCCRC provided some technical assistance in the early stages of the case.