Society

Alabama Couple Entangled In Complex Legal Battle For Minor Traffic Violation

| by Will Hagle

An Alabama couple has been entangled in a nightmarish legal battle that radically transformed their lives ever since they were stopped for a minor traffic violation in 2010.

Tim Fugatt, a music pastor from Sylacauga, Alabama, was driving home from the hospital along with his wife Kristy Greer-Fugatt when they were pulled over by a squad car. The couple had been visiting their terminally ill infant son Cole in the hospital, as he was suffering from a brain disease.  

A combination of violations led the couple to Childersburg Municipal Court, where they explained to a judge about their son's brain disease. They were found not guilty, but still slapped with $500 in court fees that they were unable to pay. Their case was passed along to the private debt collection agency Judicial Corrections Services, who eventually sent them a letter threatening their arrest.

"They would just plain out say, you know, 'If you can't pay then they'll issue you a warrant for your arrest,'" Fugatt said. "I felt completely like a criminal. I mean I didn't sell drugs. I didn't break into anyone's home. I didn't kill anybody. I had an expired tag." 

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The couple was ultimately taken to jail, before being released on bond by a relative. Their plight became even more tragic when their son died in 2011. 

The couple's legal struggles have continued, but now they're fighting back by joining a class action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against both Judicial Corrections Services and the City of Childersberg. The suit alleges that the couple's jailing was in violation of the Constitution, citing a 1971 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits issuing "a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full." Legally, the couple owes more than $1,000 in fees. 

The Fugatt's story is an increasingly common one — low-level offenders are jailed for their inability to pay the small fines associated with showing up in court or paying off a ticket.

Sources: The Blaze, The Daily Mail / Photo Credit: The Daily Mail