Amy McKinnon was jailed in Augusta, Georgia, for 120 days. Her crime was building a 3,000-square-foot home in her backyard for her sick mom, which violated local building codes (video below).
"Nobody in their right mind would buy something next to a monstrosity like this," neighbor Don Gilmore told WFXG. "Obviously, it's an eyesore and it sticks out because it doesn't belong here."
According to code enforcement officials, McKinnon was approved for a 562-square-foot gazebo.
Terrence Wynder, a code enforcement manager, told WFXG: "It was between the end of the first phase being approved and the second phase being approved that the inspectors found that this was not a 562-square-foot home."
McKinnon stated that an inspector told her that the new, larger structure would be acceptable as long as it connected to her existing home. McKinnon said she did it to move her ill mother in.
The code enforcement department refuted McKinnon's version of the story.
"We wrote her a citation saying that you have to go to court," Wynder insisted. "You are in violation of the zoning ordinance, having two structures on one parcel of land."
McKinnon was reportedly told to reduce the size or the new structure or tear it down. According to Wynder, it was McKinnon's refusal to comply that landed her in jail.
McKinnon didn't get much sympathy from her neighbor, Gilmore, who said: "I wanted to see this thing come down yesterday."
Jail time in Augusta for nonviolent minor offenses is not that uncommon.
NPR reported in May 2014 that Tom Barrett was sentenced to one year in jail for stealing a can of beer that was priced at less than $2.
Barrett, who was homeless, refused a court-appointed lawyer because he didn't want to pay a $50 administration fee.
Barrett's legal costs ended up being more than $400, which included a rental fee for a monitoring device and more fees to a private company the court placed in control of his probation.
Barrett could only make money by selling his plasma, which caused him to fall behind in his payments and landed him in jail, at taxpayer expense.
FindLaw notes on its website that poor people are guaranteed a public defender if they cannot afford one:
If you have been charged with a serious criminal offense and lack the resources to hire legal representation, you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney. The right to an attorney in criminal proceedings is enshrined within the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
However, it was not until the 1963 Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright that the law established the right to free legal representation for criminal defendants who are unable to afford a lawyer and face the possibility of incarceration.