Too Poor to Afford Freedom

Is being poor punishable by imprisonment? Should only those who can afford it be allowed freedom?

Neil Sobol, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, explores the topic of imprisonment for debt in the article, “Charging the Poor: Criminal Justice Debt & Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons.”

In colonial times in the United States, individuals were commonly imprisoned for their debt. Now, despite prohibitions against it,  poor and needy individuals are regularly incarcerated for unpaid debts. 

These “modernday debtors’ prisons” have been the subject of at least ten lawsuits in 2015 against municipalities who used them, primarily for criminal justice debt. 

 

For example, January 2015, in Georgia:

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging debt collection practices that have resulted in the jailing of people simply because they are poor. The case was brought on behalf of Kevin Thompson, a black teenager in DeKalb County, Georgia. The ACLU charges that DeKalb County and the for-profit company Judicial Corrections Services teamed up to engage in a coercive debt collection scheme that focuses on revenue generation at the expense of protecting poor people’s rights.

The ACLU tells us that “State and local courts have increasingly attempted to supplement their funding by charging fees to people convicted of crimes, including fees for public defenders, prosecutors, court administration, jail operation, and probation supervision. And in the face of mounting budget deficits at the state and local level, courts across the country have used aggressive tactics to collect these unpaid fines and fees, including for traffic offenses and other low-level offenses. These courts have ordered the arrest and jailing of people who fall behind on their payments, without affording any hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay or offering alternatives to payment such as community service.”

The effects of this system are daunting. Prof. Sobol states:

“The impact of criminal justice debt is especially severe on the poor and minorities as they are frequently assessed “poverty penalties” for interest, late fees, installment plans, and collection. Often they have to decide between paying criminal justice debt and buying family necessities. The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore have prompted renewed calls for investigation of the adverse treatment of the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system. The fear of arrest, incarceration, and unfair treatment for those owing criminal justice debt creates distrust in the system.”

Neil L. Sobol, Charging the Poor: Criminal Justice Debt & Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons, 75 Md. L. Rev. 486 (2016).
Available at: http://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/727

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Linguistics and the Law

Robert Rodman’s thesis entitled Linguistics and the Law draws from the conviction of a Haitian-born American sentenced to 12 years for dealing cocaine.

“The verdict was based in part on a surreptitious recording of the drug deal. Although the drug dealer on the tape spoke a dialect of American Black English, and the defendant speaks English with a Creole accent, the State persuaded the jury that the Haitian disguised his voice by purposefully dropping his accent. His ability to perform this feat was attributed in testimony to the fact that he had been an interpreter for the United States Army in Haiti, and was therefore a linguist, and therefore understood ‘sound change’, and therefore could disguise his voice by dropping his foreign accent. This absurd chain of non sequiturs, and the resulting miscarriage of justice, is the result of linguistic naivety and would not have occurred if the court knew that an interpreter is not necessarily a linguist, and that sound change refers to the historical development of languages.”

“Language and the law, once a subfield of sociolinguistics, is now a robust, independent area of study, where lawyers and linguists collaborate to deepen their knowledge. It has spawned associations such as the IAFL that sponsor conferences such as the one for which this paper is written. International journals such as Forensic Linguistics, The International Journal of Speech, Language, and the Law have arisen in which an ever-growing body of scholarship explores the multifaceted effect of language on legal matters.

Most of the work in this field approaches the topic from the point of view of the use of language. For example, trial lawyers learn to avoid language usage that introduces unwarranted assumptions, such as “When did you stop beating your wife?” They do not learn about presuppositions and the logical structure of language. That’s linguistics: the science that describes and explains language.”

http://ljp.utk.edu/linguistics-and-the-law/

 

Comcast Brings Gains in Digital Literacy for Boston’s Haitian Community

Digital literacy is a pervasive problem in American society still, even though iPhones and other smart devices seem to be increasingly the norm. In particular, digital literacy is more of a problem in poorer communities, and communities with large immigrant populations. President Obama has pointed this out in July of 2015 with the ConnectHome initiative.

The ConnectHome Initiative seeks to “reach over 275,000 low-income households – and nearly 200,000 children – with the support they need to access the Internet at home.” This is certainly not just a federal program but also one that uses “[i]nternet Service Providers, non-profits and the private sector [to provide] . . . broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in assisted housing units.”

Seemingly, a program started by Comcast’s senior vice president, Steve Hackley, about three years ago in Boston, Massachusetts, was ahead of the game. As the story goes, Mr. Hackley spurred a relationship with a non-profit in an under-serviced area of Boston, with a large Haitian immigrant population when he bought lunch for his sales and marketing employee Bukia Louis Chalvire. Chalvire was head of a local non-profit called the Mattapan/Greater Boston Technology Learning Center, dedicated to the needs of the Haitian community. More specifically, Mattapan sought to “bridge the digital divide and bring technology to people in the community, many of whom did not have access to internet in their homes.”

After speaking to representatives from Comcast about the needs of the particularized needs of the Haitian community and Mattapan, an “enduring” partnership arose:

Today, Mattapan Tech annually offers free and low-cost training and job placement to about 1,200 adults of all ages from 14 ethnic backgrounds – about 40 percent with Caribbean heritage. As an Internet Essentials partner, Mattapan Tech has so far provided about 50 digital literacy training sessions for about 750 students. In addition, Comcast helped air public service announcements about Mattapan classes and the availability of Internet Essentials to the community.

Clearly, gains have been made towards the aims inherent in President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, and the Haitian community has been among the winners.

To read more about Chalvire’s story and Comcast’s partnership click here for the original article.

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Magdala is a second year law student at the University of Illinois College of Law. She is the first generation of her family to be born in the United States!

ICC Young Arbitrators Forum

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) hosts the Young Arbitrators Forum (YAF) where members can “learn from experienced practitioners about career development and issues of interest in arbitration.”

The forum is free to join through a simple online form.

The ICC YAF is headed in Paris but hosts events world wide, including San Francisco, California.

The events are frequently hosted by law firms and “offer a fresh way for young practitioners of the arbitration world to interact.”

 

Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG)

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) provides information on the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). CISG was opened for signature at the concluding meeting of the Conference which took place in Vienna, Austria on April 11, 1980. Since that time, 84 states are parties to the CISG.

The CISG applies to contracts of sale of goods between parties whose places of business are in different States: (a) when the States are Contracting States; or (b) when the rules of private international law lead to the application of the law of a Contracting State.

The CISG can apply automatically to your transactions with foreign buyers or suppliers of raw materials, commodities and manufactured goods.

This is because the CISG is a self-executing treaty.

 

Haiti has not yet accented to the CISG.