The anguish comes through in people’s voices as they hear their fate for being unable to pay fines owed to the court in what the ACLU-NH says is an illegal and systemic practice by judges across New Hampshire.
Click on headline to hear what it’s like in the words of Jayson Snow, Thomas Polito, Richard Vaughan and Bryan Sullivan to be sent to jail for failing to pay fines – and listen to the judges who sentenced them.
Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU-NH, spoke of the harm to families when loved ones are jailed for failing to pay fines.
“Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel. It takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”
“Being poor is not a crime in this country,” Chaffee said.
These cases provide glimpses into courtroom across New Hampshire.
Although the investigation involved 2013 cases, Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of the ACLU-NH said the practice is likely still going on.
“I have no reason to believe that things are different now relative to the situation than they were in 2013,” Bissonnette said. “Our hope is that our report will cause it to change.”
ACLU-NH released its findings in its report “Debtors’ Prisons in New Hampshire” on Wednesday.
Jayson Snow – Snow Printed Transcript, no audio
Jayson Snow appeared before Judge Thomas E. Bamberger in 9th Circuit Court, Nashua District Division on Jan. 8, 2013. Sentenced to seven days in jail for failing to complete community service or pay $320.
Thomas Polito – Polito Printed Transcript, audio below
Thomas Polito appeared before Judge Bruce A. Cardello in 5th Circuit Court, Newport District Division on March 19, 2013. Sentenced to 12 days in jail because of $639 owed, less $100 paid.
Richard Vaughan – Vaughan Printed Transcript, audio below
Richard Vaughan appeared before Judge John Peter Cyr in 2nd Circuit Court, Littleton District Division on July 8, 2014. Sentenced to 18 days for $895 fines owed to court. With ACLU-NH’s help, he was released after spending seven days in jail.
Bryan Sullivan – Sullivan Printed Transcript, audio below
Bryan Sullivan appeared before Judge William H. Lyons on July 17, 2013 in 9th Circuit Court, Manchester District Division. In less than 90 seconds, Sullivan pleaded guilty to a violation for criminal trespassing, was fined $100 plus penalty assessment on a plea deal and sentenced to jail to satisfy the fine. Judge Lyons doesn’t specify the number of days to be served.
Judge Robert Peter Cyr sentenced Richard Vaughan to 18 days in jail for failing to pay an $895 fine, but intervention by the ACLU-NH reduced his stay to seven days.
Vaughan told Cyr at a hearing in the 2nd Circuit Court, Littleton District Division, in July of 2014 that he was a hard worker, had been unemployed for a few months and was having trouble finding a new job.
“I just had an interview, and I’m waiting to hear back from Pizza Hut,” Vaughan said at the hearing.
“And I’ve – I’ve just been trying very hard to get a job, and I’d like to go back to school in the fall and – I just – I just been praying that I get a job very shortly. I’m hitting like three, four places a day.”
Vaughan promised to pay as soon as he found work.
Cyr responded: “You’ve given me nothing concrete, sir.”
Vaughan said he understood and promised to never be late on payments once he landed a job.
“I’ve just had a bad few months and –,” Vaughan said.
Cyr said jail was his only option.
“My figure, sir, about 18 days in jail will take care of this,” Cyr said.
Vaughan said: “So is that – that’s the only option today, pretty much?”