Details consumer defenses to debt buyer and creditor collection lawsuits on credit card, medical, and other consumer debts.
The U.S. criminal justice system disproportionately burdens low-income individuals and people of color, as well as their families and communities. The National Consumer Law Center focuses on the intersection of criminal and consumer law, and their role in equitable criminal justice reform.
Criminal Background Checks
- Comments to the Massachusetts Trial Court Public Access to Court Records Committee re: Criminal Cases and Internet Access to Docket Entries and Court Files, June 15, 2015
- Report: Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses, April 2012
Criminal Justice Debt
- Written Testimony of Brian Highsmith, NCLC’s Skadden Fellow, before Before the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, 2019 Regular Session, March 25, 2019
- Report: Commercialized (In)Justice: The Growing Problem of Consumer Abuses Perpetuated by Companies Profiting from Mass Incarceration, March 2019
- Report: The Rent-to-Own Racket: Using Criminal Courts to Coerce Payments from Vulnerable Families, Feb. 2019. Press Release
- Report: Criminal Justice Debt in the South: A Primer for the Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt, Dec. 2018
- Press Release: National Consumer Law Center, ACLU & Color of Change Praise Senate Inquiry into Predatory Bail Industry Practices, Aug. 7, 2018
- Written Testimony of Brian Highsmith, NCLC’s Skadden Fellow, before New York State’s Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Protection and Division of Criminal Justice Services, Bail Bond Reform Listening Session, June 11, 2018
- Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Comprehensive Project for Reform, Sept. 2016
A collaborative three-part initiative by the National Consumer Law Center and Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program.
Confronting Criminal Justice Debt Free Webinar Series (cosponsored by The National Consumer Law Center and the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School):
- Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: Introduction and Impact on Communities of Color, Oct. 4, 2017
America’s justice system is increasingly financed by the imposition of heavy fines, fees, and costs on individuals accused of crimes and civil infractions. The costs are disproportionately born by the poor and people of color. This webinar will provide an overview of criminal justice debt as an urgent racial justice problem. It will outline key policy reforms and provide an overview of consumer, constitutional, and criminal litigation issues that arise with criminal justice debt.
- The Advocacy Gap: Meeting the Urgent Need for Counsel to Represent Individuals in Criminal Debt Proceedings, Oct. 10, 2017
Too often, individuals who owe criminal justice debt lack counsel who can help them navigate the system and avoid the severe penalties often imposed for nonpayment-from garnishment to suspension of a driver’s license to incarceration. This webinar will discuss the advocacy gap, ways in which civil attorneys can provide impactful representation, opportunities and limitations that civil legal aid-funded attorneys face, and legal and policy arguments for a right to counsel.
- Using Bankruptcy Law to Aid Criminal Justice Debtors, Oct. 17, 2017
For criminal justice debtors, bankruptcy can be a powerful tool. It can eliminate the obligation to repay certain criminal justice debts or provide an orderly mechanism for repaying certain debts that cannot be discharged. Bankruptcy can also open the door to relief, such as expungement, record sealing, or restoration of a driver’s license, that may otherwise be unavailable due to outstanding criminal debt. This webinar provides an overview of the application of bankruptcy law to criminal justice debt.
- Introduction to Harvard’s Criminal Justice Policy Program’s 50-State Criminal Justice Debt Law Web Tool, March 1, 2018
This webinar will provide an introduction to the web tool-the 50-State Criminal Justice Debt Reform Builder-and showcase ways to use it effectively for research and for work toward criminal justice debt policy reform.
- Ensuring that People Are Not Jailed Due to Poverty: Reforming Policies and Representing Clients in Criminal Justice Debt “Ability to Pay” Proceedings (May 22, 2018)
The Constitution prohibits jailing defendants for non-payment of debts they cannot afford but too often courts fail to conduct adequate “ability to pay” proceedings and unrepresented individuals are sent to jail simply because they are too poor to pay a fee. This webinar discusses both effective representation of individuals in ability to pay proceedings and best practices for ability to pay determinations that advocates should promote in policy reform.
- Affirmative Litigation of Criminal Justice Debt Abuses-Theory and Practice (March 16, 2018)
Lawsuits are currently challenging harsh criminal justice debt collection practices, including “debtor’s prisons” and automatic license suspensions. This webinar will discuss litigation strategies and challenges when pursuing affirmative claims against harsh criminal justice debt collection practices, and will encourage participants to incorporate consumer and constitutional law insights to their work.
- Crain & Serna v Accredited Surety and Casualty Co., et al., Case No RG1900-4509 Complaint and Pres
NCLC has filed a class-action lawsuit, with our partners at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Justice Catalyst Law, Public Counsel, and Towards Justice, in which we are challenging a scheme to inflate the price of bail premiums in the state of California. The lawsuit was filed in California state court on Jan 29, 2019, against the surety companies that underwrite bail bonds and the state and national trade associations representing the bail bond industry. Plaintiffs allege that an unlawful antitrust conspiracy has kept bail bond premiums higher than they would be if the California bail-bonds market functioned competitively. This scheme, ongoing since at least 2004, has not only made bail bonds costlier for California consumers, but also resulted in more people spending time in jail while awaiting trial–separated from their families, jobs, and lives. The suit seeks damages for the hundreds of thousands of Californians who have overpaid for unlawfully inflated bail bond premiums and also injunctive relief to end the overcharges going forward.
- Pearson et al v Hodgson and Securus Technologies, Inc, Case No. 18-1360, Complaint and Press Release
- Egana v Blair’s Bail Bonds, Inc. Case No. 2:17-cv-5899 First Amended Complaint
Plaintiffs, an accused and others who agreed to indemnify the bail bond company in case of loss, filed this action on behalf of themselves and all individuals whose rights under federal and state law were violated when they contracted with Defendants for a bail bond to secure their own or their loved ones’ release from jail. The Amended Complaint describes the process through which Defendant bail bond company agreed to allow plaintiffs to finance the premium for the bond, but utilized contracts that violate the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq. by failing to make necessary disclosures, and state contract, conversion, and usury laws by requiring payment of amounts above what state law allows, including paying daily fees for ankle monitors supplied by another company. The FAC also alleges that Defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (RICO) and the Louisiana Racketeering Act, La. Stat. Ann. § 15:1351, by conspiring to employ or contract with bounty hunters to kidnap, detain, and threaten to jail principals unless they or their loved ones paid money that was distributed between Defendants. NCLC’s co-counsel are The Southern Poverty Law Center and the firm of Wilmer Hale
Continuing updates and additional information concerning criminal justice debt will be available for subscribers to this legal treatise.
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