New Jersey’s judiciary will release a report that addresses some “disturbing” practices at municipal courts around the state, including the jailing of a man who could not pay the full amount of a $239 traffic fine and a judge’s falsifying of records to generate more money for municipalities.
In a memo on Tuesday, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said a committee was formed last year to address fines and fees at the municipal court level, and that its report would be released soon. The two cases he cited, while not typical, highlighted “some disturbing practices,” he wrote.
“The imposition of punishment should in no way be linked to a town’s need for revenue,” Rabner wrote. “And defendants may not be jailed because they are too poor to pay court-ordered financial obligations.”
In one of the cases, a 20-year-old student and part-time cook went to court to seek a payment plan to pay a $239 fine for tossing a cigarette butt out his car window on the New Jersey Turnpike in Burlington Township in 2014.
Instead, when Anthony Kneisser could not pay the entire amount he was handcuffed and arrested and sentenced to five days in jail. He spent about five hours in the township jail before he was able to get a parent to pay the fine.
In a ruling issued on March 30 in Kneisser’s lawsuit against the court, a federal judge concluded his constitutional rights had been violated.
In another case, a judge presiding over multiple municipalities diverted fines so that the municipalities would get more money at the expense of the county, according to Rabner. The judge later pleaded guilty to falsifying records.