By now, we hope you’ve realized that you need to be checking for fees, fines, and foolishness related to all interactions with the government–especially law enforcement and the criminal punishment system. On this episode of The Axiom Amnesia Theory, Heit & Cheri share personal and current event stories about how the government’s favorite pastime is shaking the citizens down for cash, throwing them in jail for inability to pay government debts, and jeopardizing the very right to maintain a roof over their heads.

Topics discussed include the racket that the Dallas Public Library is running with their fines on DVDs, Blockbuster lawsuits over late fees, a rule that allows people to be kicked out after police respond to three domestic violence events within a certain period, the psychology of people who stay in abusive relationships, apartment complexes evicting families because of the activities of their alleged guests, criminal background checks for apartment rentals, people who are forced to live check-to-check, and more!

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  • Discussion about the racket that the Dallas Public Library is running with their fines on DVDs. Heit & Cheri explain their recent experience of being charged $63 in fines on three videos. The library demands that the fees be paid, and the person does not get to keep the video, even after they have paid fines worth more than the cost of the video.
  • library 2

  • If you pay $63 in late fees, then you should be able to keep the videos–otherwise they should have a cap on fines for returned videos.
  • Discussion about how the librarian knew what she was doing when she checked the videos in, thus locking in the fines.
  • Discussion about Blockbuster lawsuits over late fees.
  • Discussion about a rule that allows people to be kicked out after police respond to three domestic violence events within a certain period.

    Last year in Norristown, Pa., Lakisha Briggs’ boyfriend physically assaulted her, and the police arrested him. But in a cruel turn of events, a police officer then told Ms. Briggs, “You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you.”

    Yes, that’s right. The police threatened Ms. Briggs with eviction because she had received their assistance for domestic violence. Under Norristown’s “disorderly behavior ordinance,” the city penalizes landlords and tenants when the police respond to three instances of “disorderly behavior” within a four-month period. The ordinance specifically includes “domestic disturbances” as disorderly behavior that triggers enforcement of the law.

    After her first “strike,” Ms. Briggs was terrified of calling the police. She did not want to do anything to risk losing her home. So even when her now ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick, she did not call. And later, when he stabbed her in the neck, she was still too afraid to reach out. But both times, someone else did call the police. Based on these “strikes,” the city pressured her landlord to evict. After a housing court refused to order an eviction, the city said it planned to condemn the property and forcibly remove Ms. Briggs from her home. The ACLU intervened, and the city did not carry out its threats, and even agreed to repeal the ordinance. But just two weeks later, Norristown quietly passed a virtually identical ordinance that imposes fines on landlords unless they evict tenants who obtain police assistance, including for domestic violence.
    Source: Huffington Post

  • Discussion about the psychology of people who stay in abusive relationships.
  • Discussion about the police intervening in domestic issues.
  • Discussion about the unequal application of the law. Will some people push to get low income residents evicted, while not reporting middle class people?
  • Perhaps the eviction will force the split of domestic violence victims and their abusers.
  • Discussion about a family that was evicted because a teen who was caught in a apartment complex with a gun claimed he was there to see another teen. As a result of this, the teen whose family lived there was evicted. There was no proof, other than the teen’s word, that he was on the property to visit the teen who lived there.
  • Discussion about criminal background checks for apartment rentals. Where are people supposed to live? We already understand that some groups are systematically criminalized, so how is it fair to implement these background checks?
  • debtors prison

  • Discussion about debtor’s prison practices in Ohio.

    CLEVELAND – The U.S. Constitution and Ohio state law prohibit courts from jailing people for being too poor to pay their legal fines, but in several Ohio counties, local courts are doing it anyway. The ACLU of Ohio today released The Outskirts of Hope, a report that chronicles a nearly yearlong investigation into Ohio’s debtors’ prisons and tells the stories of six Ohioans whose lives have been damaged by debtors’ prison practices.

    “Being poor is not a crime in this country,” said Rachel Goodman, Staff Attorney at the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel—it takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”

    The law requires that courts hold hearings to determine defendants’ financial status before jailing them for failure to pay fines, and defendants must be provided with lawyers for these hearings. If a defendant cannot pay, the court must explore options other than jail.

    “Supreme Court precedent and Ohio law make clear that local courts and jails should not function as debtors’ prisons,” said Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “Yet many mayors’ courts and some municipal courts jail people without making any attempt whatsoever to determine whether they can afford to pay their fines.”
    Source: ACLU

  • Some people cannot pay the fines and court costs. A fine is supposed to be a punishment, but it doesn’t punish people equally. The more money you have, the less the fine hurts.
  • Discussion about people who are forced to live check-to-check.
  • Discussion about the myths about people who live check to check.
  • Discussion about the spending decisions and challenges facing the poor.
  • Poor people don’t get a vacation from being poor. People who have more money take for granted that others can afford the same things they can.

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