NCLEJ Challenges Excessive Fines and Fees in Indiana
On November 25, 2020, as part of our efforts to end excessive fines and fees, NCLEJ and the National ACLU, ACLU of Illinois, Fines and Fees Justice Center, and Shriver Center on Poverty Law submitted an amicus brief to the Seventh Circuit in Grashoff v. Payne, in support of Plaintiff-Appellant Susan Grashoff. Ms. Grashoff is an unemployed Indiana resident who received a grossly disproportionate penalty for mistakenly failing to report part-time income while receiving unemployment insurance.
The Seventh Circuit will consider a challenge under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. This clause protects people from abusive economic sanctions imposed by the government. In light of Ms. Grashoff’s case, the Court will determine whether, in certain circumstances, a penalty levied under an Indiana statute against a person who failed to report income while receiving unemployment insurance may be unconstitutionally excessive under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.
In the brief, we urge the Court to consider an individual’s financial circumstances when deciding whether an economic sanction is too high. We provide concrete data about the growing use of exorbitant fines, fees, and forfeitures across the country; how these sanctions affect the real, lived experiences of low-income people; and the disproportionate impact of these sanctions on Black people and other people of color.
Over the past several decades, state and local governments have increasingly relied on fines, fees, and forfeitures to generate revenue for public programs—a form of economic injustice that disproportionately harms low-income Black, Brown, and immigrant individuals who have little to no financial safety net. Fines, fees, and forfeitures can jumpstart and balloon vicious cycles of debt, unemployment, and poverty, impairing people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families.