Colorado Rights Blog

Procedures When Orders Require Monetary Payments (End Debtors’ Prisons)

Criminal Justice | Criminalization of Homelessness | End Debtors' Prisons
Bill Number: HB16 - 1311
Year: 2016
ACLU Position: Active Support
Sponsors: J. Salazar

HB 1311 – A Bill to End Debtors’ Prisons in Colorado

Read the ACLU of Colorado Fact Sheet on HB 1311

In 2014, the legislature passed HB-1061 with near-unanimous bipartisan support, acting to end debtors’ prisons in Colorado and ensure that no one ever be incarcerated for failure to pay court debts they are too poor to pay.

HB 14-1061 prohibited courts from issuing arrest warrants for failure to pay fines. District and county courts have followed the law, but municipal courts have found a loophole to continue jailing impoverished debtors. Many municipal courts now issue warrants for “failure to appear” (FTA warrants) as frequently and to serve the same function as the “failure to pay” warrants that were prohibited by HB 14-1061—with the same unconstitutional effect of jailing impoverished individuals who lack the means to pay court fines or fees. Courts accomplish this by making every payment date under an installment plan a mandatory court appearance. These court appearances are shams – designed only to allow municipal courts to issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest if the defendant does not pay the fines due.

Decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled that jailing people for inability to pay a fine violates both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution.

Jailing poor people does nothing to get a debt paid. It costs more for cities to issue warrants, hold court appearances, and jail indigent debtors than can ever hope to be recovered.

HB 1311 closes the loopholes in the current law by prohibiting a court from jailing a defendant when the defendant’s only remaining obligation is money owed to the court, except when a defendant willfully failed to pay.

It strengthens the current law’s notice requirements, defines ability to pay, and clarifies that a court may jail a person for failure to pay only through contempt of court proceedings in which appropriate due process protections are provided to indigent debtors.

Jail should be used to protect the public, never to collect a debt. Being poor is not a crime.


Current Status:

Passed out of House Judiciary Committee

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