Louisiana criminal defendants were victims of fraud, racketeering

They were probably some of the easiest people to defraud: people already in trouble with the law for some reason.

Their credibility was low, many were uneducated or poor and few had the sympathy of the general public these days — which has gone decidedly hard toward people even accused of a crime.

However, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has joined up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and filed a lawsuit that alleges numerous criminal defendants in Louisiana were victims of a devious district court judge, a crooked company that provides monitoring services for defendants waiting for trials while out on bail and a complicit local sheriff.

Here’s the problem: The company that provides the monitoring (at some excessively high fees payable by the defendant), the judge and the sheriff all have ties to each other in one way or another, which meant they all had a relationship that extended past the norms among legal co-workers.

The judge would offer defendants desperate to get out of prison while they waited months for a trial a way out of jail — but make unnecessary monitoring by the expensive company a part of the deal.

The sheriff would make sure that the company was paid prior to releasing the defendants and would then go pick them back up again and put them right back in jail if they missed even one monitoring payment.

Keep in mind, these payments to the monitoring unit were in addition to the defendant’s normal bail — which is supposed to serve as a guarantee of appearance in court in the first place without the addition of a monitoring service. Unlike bail, however, none of those fees were refundable to the defendants who showed up for court — even if they were found innocent.

Now that the grift has been exposed, the ACLU and SPLC are asking for class action status — they want every defendant to receive $10,000 at a minimum for compensation. While the exact number of defendants involved in the class is still unclear, there are at least 300 people involved.

Cases like this show how vulnerable criminal defendants are to abuse — and why it is important to keep in mind that a criminal charge doesn’t mean the same thing as an actual conviction. It also shows why the advice and assistance of an attorney is so important.

Source: HuffPost, “Firm, Judge, Sheriff Accused of Bail Fee Extortion,” Christopher Zoukis, Aug. 30, 2017

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