Southern Center Says Atlanta Judges Are Using Illegal 'Pay Or Jail' Sentences

Mar 5, 2019




A legal advocacy group says judges in Atlanta are illegally imposing sentences on poor people that require them to pay a set fine or spend time in jail.

The Southern Center for Human Rights says the Atlanta Municipal court is imposing "pay or jail" sentences on the homeless, which they say violates the U.S. Constitution.




The group cites at least 59 cases where judges used these kinds of sentences for crimes like drinking in public, disorderly conduct or jaywalking.

The crimes associated with this type of sentence include:

— a man charged with drinking beer on a city sidewalk: $75 fine or 30 days in jail;

— a man accused of being disruptive at a hospital who was charged with disorderly conduct: $200 fine or 10 days in jail;

— a man charged with urinating on a city sidewalk: $150 fine or two days in jail;

— a man accused of shoplifting two packs of meat: $150 fine or five days in jail;

— a woman accused of soliciting money on a train: $100 fine or three days in jail.


In a letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the municipal court, the Southern Center says it will seek legal action if the practice continues.

A court spokeswoman disputed the group's claims, saying people aren't required to choose between paying a fine or time in jail and that the language used in court documents is misleading.

Last year, the city of Atlanta eliminated a cash bond requirement for low-level offenders who would otherwise sit in jail if they couldn't afford bail.