About Lars Trautman’s article, “End Taxation by Prosecution,” this morning: Yes, thank you, and amen.
Ask most people what prosecution has to do with taxes, and you’ll be lucky to get an answer this side of Al Capone. Admittedly, other than the occasional tax cheat, the two do not appear to have much in common. So it may come as a shock to learn that local governments across this country not only expect prosecutors to generate revenue but also rely on them to make ends meet. It is taxation by prosecution, and it needs to stop.
I am reminded of the DOJ’s investigation of the police department in Ferguson, Mo., written up by Ian Tuttle here.
In 2010, the city’s finance director encouraged Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson to “ramp up” ticket-writing to help mitigate an anticipated sales-tax shortfall. Not only did citations increase, but so did the issuance of “companion charges” — for example, charges for speeding and failure to maintain a single lane, to accompany DWI charges. One stop can yield six or eight citations, and officers have been known to compete to set single-stop records. Indeed, within Ferguson Police Department, because opportunities for promotion have been tied to “productivity” — that is, enthusiasm for ticket-writing — officers have perverse incentives to issue citations, and in concert with police and prosecutors, municipal courts regularly enforce the payment of fines in a way that compounds what a single defendant owes. The report recounts the case of a woman for whom a single 2007 parking infraction — two citations; penalty: $151 plus fees — has led to multiple arrests, jail time, and more than $1,000 in additional fines, half of which she has yet to pay.