Friday, March 1, 2024

Feds: No More Jail for Unpaid Fines in Lexington

 The Justice Department issued the following statement. 

The Justice Department sent a letter today to the City of Lexington, Mississippi, and the Lexington Police Department (LPD) raising significant concerns regarding their practice of jailing people for unpaid fines without first assessing whether they can afford to pay them.

Specifically, the department informed the City and LPD that their practice violates the Constitution’s prohibition on wealth-based detention in two ways: first, by requiring people who are arrested to pay down outstanding fines before they can be released from jail, and second, by issuing and arresting people on warrants for outstanding fines.

Today’s letter is a part of the Justice Department’s ongoing civil pattern or practice investigation into the City of Lexington and LPD. The investigation, opened on Nov. 8, 2023, seeks to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law related to use of force; stops, searches and arrests; discriminatory policing and the right to free speech. Although the investigation continues, the Justice Department determined that it was critically important to identify these violations now rather than waiting until the conclusion of the inquiry.

“It’s time to bring an end to a two-tiered system of justice in our country in which a person’s income determines whether they walk free or whether they go to jail,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Unjust enforcement of fines and fees is unlawful, and it traps people and their families in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment. There is great urgency underlying the issues we have uncovered in Mississippi, and we stand ready to work with officials to end these harmful practices and ensure the civil and constitutional rights of Lexington residents are protected.”

“One third of Lexington’s residents live below the poverty line. The burden of unjust fines and fees undermines the goals of rehabilitation and erodes the community’s trust in the justice system,” said U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi. “Each step we take towards fair and just policing rebuilds that trust. Lexington and LPD can take those steps now, while our investigation is ongoing.”

Justice Department officials met with city and police leaders earlier today about their unlawful practice, which investigators identified during its ongoing investigation. Lexington officials have pledged to work with the Justice Department to ensure that the collection of fines and fees complies with legal requirements.

On April 20, 2023, the Justice Department issued a Dear Colleague Letter on Fines and Feesexplaining that before a person can be imprisoned for failure to pay a fine or fee, the Constitution requires courts to first determine whether the person lacks the resources to pay. In most circumstances, if a person cannot afford to pay, imprisonment for unpaid fines or fees is unlawful.

Additional information about the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is available on its website at Information specific to the Civil Rights Division’s police reform work can be found at


fed up in Jackson said...

so much for rule of law, and polite civilized society. I mean, work hard, respect others and don't break the law, then these fines never come into play

Vote Their @$$e$ Out said...

What a bunch of bu!!$h!+

Anonymous said...

But, but, if they are forced to pay their fines they won't have enough money for reefer.

Anonymous said...

No more fines will ever be collected by the City of Lexington.

Anonymous said...

So now the Constitution is back in play? City of Lexington should disregard it like everything this administration does by disregarding SCOTUS and weaponizing every agency up there.

Anonymous said...

When there are no consequences for criminal behavior it will become the norm. I will venture to guess that most of the citizens who have back fines they cannot pay are subsidized by our tax dollars. Again I will wager the majority have never paid taxes and are not contributing members of society. What happened to if you cant do the time don't do the crime?

On The House Or Rather On The City said...

Fines! We don't need no stinking fines!

Anonymous said...

If you drive through Lexington, without a local county tag, you WILL get a ticket for something, and the money (used to) stay in Lexington. I know from personal experience. Just another reason the Ms. Delta is what it is today.

Anonymous said...

The amount of hypocrisy in that DOJ release is more than I can stand. The lack of self awareness is astounding.

Anonymous said...

11:47 no matter what someone tells you, or you read in Coopwood's rag, Delta Magazine, Lexington isn't the MS Delta, never has been and never will be. It is in what you call "The Hills".

Anonymous said...

The whole area of Holmes County is a quagmire of unaddressed crime. Ask anyone who owns a deer camp there. You cant leave anything unattended due to rampant theft. The seems to be no effort on the part of the Sheriff's Department to investigate these crimes.
One more sign of the times.
Another example of a Democratic County's abysmal failure.
Move along.... nothing to see here.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi is currently on the US DOJ's radar, especially their Civil Rights Division. Maybe they just watched reruns of "Mississippi Burning" and were thus "triggered."

Anonymous said...

12:27 you've got to make a "campaign contribution" to the Sherriff to get some protection at your camp. That's how it's always worked. But you are correct, it is wild what goes on in Holmes County.

Anonymous said...

Lexington trivia: Two Medal of Honor and one Navy Cross recipient are from there.

Anonymous said...

If you drive through Lexington, without a local county tag, you WILL get a ticket for something, and the money (used to) stay in Lexington. I know from personal experience. Just another reason the Ms. Delta is what it is today.

March 1, 2024 at 11:47 AM

About 40 yrs ago we were on our way to the delta for a weekend of catfishing. We had a boat in the bed of the truck, upside down & hanging over the top of the tailgate about 4', even had a red shop towel tied to it. When we went around the square a city cop pulled us over on our way outta town. He gave us a ticket for having a "Overhanging Load". Never mind the other vehicles coming & going with the same "Overhanging" loads...Our real crime was having a Leake County Tag...

Anonymous said...

this DOJ letter is addressed to a katherine riley. who is she?

Don Drane said...

"Just another reason the Ms. Delta is what it is today."

Except that Lexington is not in the Mississippi Delta.

Holmes is what we call a Part-Delta County since a sliver of the county is indeed Delta, but not Lexington.

There are quite a few Part-Delta Counties along the boundary of our Delta. Remember: A Part-Delta County is one which is predominantly hills but has flat land adjoining the rest of the Delta.

There are 19 Delta and Part-Delta Counties in Mississippi. And regardless of what the Greenville poet penned; our Delta does not extend into Tennessee.

Anonymous said...

@5:56 Katherine Riley is the city attorney. Katherine Barrett Riley…daughter of Don Barrett.

Anonymous said...

12:28 said, "The amount of hypocrisy in that DOJ release is more than I can stand. The lack of self awareness is astounding."

We have a new leader for Post of the Year.

Anonymous said...

The April 20, 2023 letter is accompanied by a 19-page, single-spaced legal memo that reads like an appeal brief, co-signed by Kristin Clarke.

Footnote note 1 of the brief concedes "This document does not bind the public. Rather, it advises the public of how the Department understands, and is likely to apply, binding laws and regulations."

In other words, it's basically a federal version of an AG Opinion, based on a brief written by Kristin Clarke. (The same Kristin Clarke who is carrying the water for Chockwe Lumumba and Harvey Johnson's brother, pun intended).

If you want to quote the law to me, don't give me your brief, which by definition constitutes advocacy. Give me a copy of the opinion that decided the appeal for which your brief was written.

I'm not saying Lexington doesn't have problems that need to be fixed. I'm just saying Kristin Clarke doesn't get to write the law. And citing to her brief in subsequent letters does not convert it into binding precedent.

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