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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

People vs. Dueñas: Punishing Poor People

court fines in California
It is often said: "Crime doesn’t pay." The idiom might mean different things to different people; but, one thing is for sure, it’s that those who break the law are subject to having to pay significant fines. So, in a sense, being on the windy side of the law can be an expensive enterprise.

Today, we would like to draw your attention to a court case that is sending shockwaves across the Golden State—People vs. Dueñas. In January, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles decided that California is punishing people for being poor. The Justices found that imposing steep fines on a misdemeanor offense for men and women who cannot afford to pay violates their rights.

Velia Dueñas of Los Angeles – now a homeless mother of two – was unable to pay $1,088 in fines for tickets she received as a juvenile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Due to her inability to pay, her license was suspended (until 2017, failure to pay fines could result in losing the right to drive). She was then convicted three times of driving with a suspended license and had to serve 141 days because she lacked the funds to pay the fines.

Forcing Courts to Take Poverty into Account


Dueñas was caught driving illegally again, spent nine days in jail for being unable to pay the $300 fine, and then ordered to pay an additional $220. The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ordered the court that sentenced Dueñas to hold a hearing to consider her ability to pay fines. The article reports that the court of appeals wrote that the Legislature should rewrite the law to require financial consideration hearings.

Since the January decision, attorneys across the state have filed Dueñas-based motions for their low-income clients, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Moreover, Senate Bill 144 – a newly proposed piece of legislation – aims to do away with administrative fees for programs like diversion and probation.

“Dueñas has changed the landscape in a number of ways,” said Brandon Greene, an attorney who worked with the East Bay Community Law Center on the case. “I think California is on track to recognize that the way that we fund certain services — whether it’s at the state or county level — is on the cusp of re-envisioning.” 

“Funding things on the backs of poor people,” he adds, “is neither just nor sustainable.”

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


If you are facing legal challenges in California, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to discuss how we can help you. With more than three decades of experience, Attorney Brower is the ideal candidate to advocate for you and your family.

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