As if we need more proof that our so-called criminal justice system functions as a way to punish poor people and doesn’t give one shit about survivors of domestic violence, here’s a terrible, and deeply unsurprising, story out of Louisiana—local judges have been forcing people who are seeking restraining orders and then subsequently miss their court dates to pay steep fines for not showing up. Many of these people are, as one would expect, women who have experienced domestic abuse.
More from the Advocate:
The Advocate identified at least 100 people in 2019 who, for various reasons, “failed to appear” at their court dates after receiving a temporary restraining order and were subsequently ordered by the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees.
The unexpected price tag has left multiple women — already struggling to reach financial independence from their abusers — with the same takeaway: “Don’t waste your time seeking a restraining order.”
This includes women like Antoinette Dixon, whose boyfriend had, according to her request for a restraining order, “kicked her, choked her, spat on her, beat her with the splintered leg of a wooden table and broke into her house.” When her court date arrived, however, she couldn’t make it due to her job as a janitor, and she was fined $499 by the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court, which also allowed her temporary restraining order to lapse and denied her request for a more permanent restraining order.
According to the Advocate, these fines are partly the result of a 2006 law that allowed judges in the state to order people to pay fines if they deem their case “frivolous,” which seems to me at least like a ruling that’s hard to make if someone doesn’t show up in court. And these steep fines are just another deterrent for people trying to leave their abusers, which can often take several attempts. To make matters worse, in addition to being forced to pay fines, some women have been told that if they don’t pay a portion of their fines, they could be sent to jail. Per the Advocate:
Multiple women told The Advocate that when they attempted to challenge the court costs at subsequent cost review hearings, they were told by disgruntled courtroom staff to instead pay a minimum of $50 to reset their hearing date for another time.
“Their main concern was the money. I didn’t even get a chance to talk to the judge at all,” Dixon said, echoing the experiences of several other women.
At least three women separately said they were told by staff that if they didn’t pay the $50 minimum, they would be sent to jail. In some cases, the court has issued bench warrants for women who failed to appear at the cost review hearings.
As one woman put it, “It made me feel like it’s more about money than protecting women.” Sounds about right.
To read the Advocate’s full investigation, go here.