Man, too poor to pay fishing fine, sent to jail

A story about a modern debtors' prison in Michigan.
Fish-FineKyle Dewitt spent three days in jail because he was too poor to pay a fishing fine. Last spring, Dewitt was ticketed and fined $215 for fishing smallmouth bass out of season (Dewitt disputes the charge).

But Dewitt, 19 years old with a fiancée and a nine-month-old son, lost his job at a grocery store in 2010 and has been out of work ever since. He couldn’t afford the $215 fine. Instead he offered to pay $100 up front, and repay the rest in a month. But Judge Raymond Voet of Ionia, Mich., refused. The judge sentenced Dewitt to three days in jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union paid to break Dewitt out. Now the group is suing on behalf of Dewitt and four others in Michigan who were jailed because they were too poor to pay misdemeanor fines.

“Long thought to be a relic of the 19th century, debtors’ prisons are still alive and well in Michigan,” Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, said in a press release. “Jailing our clients because they are poor is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources.”

Man Jailed For Not Paying Fishing Fine (Image: Fish, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from jmsmith000's photostream)


  1. It is only a waste of resources if you don’t view the poor as a commodity to ship into the prison-industrial complex!  If you DO view the poor as a way for the prison-industrial complex to bilk government money, then this is super efficient!

  2. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and — provided it’s the right season, he has the proper licensing, he is engaging in said activity in a sanctioned location and doesn’t take more than he is allotted — you’ll feed him for a lifetime. (As long as he keeps the license current.)

    1. All smallmouth bass are sunfish, but not all sunfish are smallmouth bass.  Sunfish refers to the family, Centrarchidae.

  3. The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread fish out of season.

    1. He deserves to be punished. Conservation laws are generally a good thing. Jail is an absurd result, but not more absurd than your mockery.

      1. Just pointing out that someone who is unemployed and fishing for food has a slightly different set of priorities and trade-offs than someone who is fishing recreationally. I realize that mercy is terribly out of fashion these days, though.

      2. Sure conservation laws are a good thing. I’d say conserving smallmouth bass is at least as important as letting a human being eat.

      3. and he was punished. by being given a $215 ticket. which he offered to pay within a month. would you rather have his child not have diapers or food for the month in lieu of paying on the spot? .

      4. So you think that the offer to pay half up front and the rest over time was deserving of jail? 
        I see how America has gotten into this mess.

    2. unless the rich happen to be a part of the political elite or LEO communities… in which case they are free to fish during any season they like, for any fish they wish without repercussion. because the law, in its majestic equality, seemingly does not apply, and looks the other way, as if there was no infraction in the first place.

  4. Looks more like a bluegill to me.

    -abs admits the line is fuzzy, but he thinks he sees blue in that there fish (admittedly being red/green colorblind does “color” *ahem* his perceptions, but blue is a color he does usually see)

  5. “Silly, poor person.  You’re doing it wrong.  You and you family are supposed to starve to death”

    The real tragedy is that he got fed for those three days, while his wife and child didn’t.

    What’s that old saying about teaching someone to fish?

    1. His wife and child didn’t get fed because women are helpless? For all we know, the guy was living off his wife’s breadwinnings and was just fishing like a bum instead of out looking for work.

      1. Assumptions are great tools to a logical discussion. I could maybe
        understand people’s difficulty in seeing that this man was trying to do
        something, anything, and somehow still doing something wrong to put food on the table if say he was street
        racing for money in a $40,000 dollar car (or something like that). But he was fishing. Which even if his intent was less than admirable (which seems a stretch) the result would still be something to eat. Perhaps you think he should have sold his rod and reel at the pawn shop instead. A very short term solution but at least he would have been neatly within the confines, letter and lines of the ‘law’.

        ‘Fishing like a bum’ yeah because only bums fish. And while we are at it, what is your assumption regarding what she was doing? Something befitting the wife of a bum no doubt.

        In all seriousness, people in hard positions do what they can. And I for one am thankful that the one person we do know anything about tried to do something constructive (not exactly legal but it’s better than what others would have done), would we have preferred that he attempt to rob a 7-11 instead? I think not.

      2. His wife and child didn’t get fed because women are helpless? For all we know, the guy was living off his wife’s breadwinnings and was just fishing like a bum instead of out looking for work.

        We really have to start making up stories in order to justify why the court not splitting a $215 fine nto two payments and ordering him to jail for three days was a model of jurisprudence?

        For all I care, he could be the heir to the Scary Off-Brand Snack Cake Fortune, and his wife couldn’t attend the hearing because she was having her twice-weekly unicorn fur skin treatment. Any judge with half a functioning heart and brain would answer this request with “Approved, clerk, please note the record. Next case, please, and let’s get someone who actually did something seriously wrong for the next one, ‘K.”

  6. I can’t count the number of times I slipped through the iron grip of our keepers because in ye olde dayes your social security number wasn’t used to track you. Now kids who make even the smallest mistake are tagged for the rest of their lives.

    Shame on those of you with the “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” attitude! Do you save up your empathy only for rich people who fall from grace?

  7. The man offered a reasonable alternative that should have appeased both parties. It’s no different than working out a payment plan for taxes, which the government often does. 

    This man was sentenced to spend 3 more days in jail than many white collar criminals who commit far worse crimes. 3 days that likely cost the state of Michigan far more than $215.

    1. Oh, it gets better. I’d be willing to bet that Michigan is one of the states which bills you for time spent in their jails. So his family will be getting another notice in the mail soon.

      Wanna guess what happens after that?

  8. It’s phenomenally easy to catch an out of season fish or mis-identify a fish, which makes this all the sillier. In most jurisdictions, some fish are in season while others are out. I do know which of my lures certain varieties of fish seemingly prefer, but I have no control over which fish actually bites. I caught fish that were out of season as recently as this spring. The right thing to do when that happens is immediately return them to the water and change your fishing spot.

    So he got caught, this would imply he kept the out of season fish rather than returning them to the water. Since we know the fish species, it’s a relatively safe assumption that the fish was kept in an identifiable manner. If he had the intent to catch and keep out of season fish, why did he not take 2 minutes to fillet the catch thereby rendering it unidentifiable as out of season?

    Coloration on fish varies a great deal based on conditions. A chart I have to sort out Muskie from Pike has 6 illustrations of the possible color combinations that exist just for adult males in my region. Even the names are confusing! Rock bass is in-season all year, but smallmouth and largemouth bass have seasons.

    And of course, on top of it all, he did offer to pay. As much as he could right now, and the rest on a reasonable timeframe. The judge was a total juicebox in handing down the punishment he did.

  9.  Should he be treated differently than defendants who have more money?

    He was fined. He offered to pay the fine. The judge, instead, decided to fuck up his life and waste government resources by throwing him in jail. I’m having difficulty seeing the defendant as the bad guy.

    Aren’t you effectively penalizing those people who can pay their fines in the timeframe required by the court?

    I have no problem with someone who makes $250,000/year asking to pay $100 now and $115 in a month.

  10. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and his is going to have to pay!

  11. To be filed under “the one that got away”, our intrepid justice had a run in with Dr. Death.

    From the WWZM ABC 13 website reports:pneumonia Friday in a Detroit hospital.
    He was 83 years old.
    IONIA, Mich. (WZZM)– If he had to do it over again, former Ionia
    County Prosecutor Raymond Voet says he would not have asked for a
    mistrial 14 years ago in the Dr. Jack Kevorkian case.

    “It’s the only regret I have,” says Voet, who is now an Ionia County Judge.

    Kevorkian,also known as “Dr. Death” because of his work helping
    people commit suicide, died from pneumonia Friday in a Detroit hospital.
    He was 83 years old.

    In 1997, Kevorkian went on trial in Ionia for helping 54 year old
    Loretta Peabody commit suicide.  Peabody suffered from Multiple
    Sclerosis. After inflammatory opening remarks by defense attorney
    Geoffrey Fieger, Voet convinced the judge to declare a mistrial.

    “You know, hindsight is always 20/20,” says Voet. “In retrospect, if I
    have a regret, it’s not finishing the trial and bringing Dr. Kevorkian
    to a resolution in Ionia County.”

  12. Yes, yes, yes, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc.
    But speaking for all of the small-mouthed bass of Michigan: JUSTICE AT LAST!

  13. I thought the entire point of having a Judge was so that they can make a “Judgement”.  If their job is just to arbitrarily follow the letter of some random law regardless of real life gray areas,   we can just replace them with a cop and an iphone app

  14. And the whole “you are poor because you are lazy or stupid” thing… It always seems to kick-in just below the pay grade of the one who says it.

  15. Debtor prisons are not an entirely terrible idea. We could have sent a lot of Wall Street to prison that way in 2008…

  16. If anyone had told me this morning that today’s angry thread would be about smallmouth bass, I would have laughed.

  17. how about those of us who think this is bullshit pay the remainder of the man’s fine?

    1. how about those of us who think this is bullshit pay the remainder of the man’s fine?

      I already did. I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

  18. So what we are saying here is –
    If your poor you get jail time.
    If your rich you can pay a fine and walk.

    So the concept of equal justice for all is officially done for.

    Because a poor person having to pay a $20 fine holds that $20 dearly and will avoid loosing that in the future.
    A rich person will not care about a $20 fine, and most likely will continue to break that law as long as they have $20’s handy.

    Justice is blind blah blah blah…. The point of Justice is to punish those who break the law.

    A poor person out a $20 might not eat for a week, a rich person out a $20 won’t miss a single meal.
    Not exactly the same result by a long shot.

    There is inequity in these laws, and a core belief in this country is all men are created equal.  But sometimes you need to make sure it actually is equal to every man.

    1.  ethical judges, or a sliding scale fine system based on annual income, might fix this- though ethical judges seems a wee far fetched

  19. Don’t hunting and fishing laws originally come from anti-poaching measures to keep the poor from depleting the reserves of the landed wealthy?

    1. The licensing fees certainly do, but is the particular fish endangered or threatened in that area?

      Edit: Species Health/Conservation Status is classified LC, so nix to that.

    2. Sure, but aren’t most “laws” originally in place to protect the interest of the wealthy? Regardless of why they were originally created, there are good reasons for many of them today. There is not a good reason to throw this guy in jail, but there is a good reason to regulate fishing and hunting.

      1. Sure, but aren’t most “laws” originally in place to protect the interest of the wealthy?

        Roman law largely evolved as a mechanism to protect the plebs from the patricians, although the latter were rather good at manipulating it to the opposite end.

    3. Fishing and hunting laws in the US have vastly different origins from those of Europe. Laws emerged here to prevent, or in response to the effects of, market hunting. Game laws in the US can be considered to be without a class bias.

  20. Poor people are going to jail in Michigan for more than just fishing.

    Kristen Preston, a 19 year old mother, was unable to pay a $125 fine for underage drinking. Judge Voet sentenced her to 30 days in jail.

    David Clark, 30, was ordered to complete a six-week parenting class
    and pay a $1,250 fine for spanking his girlfriend’s child. Clark took
    the class, but he couldn’t afford the fine as a part-time grocery store
    worker who brings home $150 a week. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and lost his job. Clark’s girlfriend was charged with the same misdemeanor offense;
    however, her parents paid her costs, and she was therefore not jailed.

    Dorian Bellinger, 22, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana
    possession and couldn’t afford the $425 in fees he was sentenced to 13 days in jail.

  21. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here but again, I have not seen this go by yet… Was he fishing for food or sport? I think this makes an incredible difference. 

  22. But Judge Raymond Voet of Ionia, Mich., refused. The judge sentenced Dewitt to three days in jail.

    Fish without a license and go to jail.
    Defraud and crash economies and get bailed out by taxpayers.

  23. Wasn’t there a president who was caught fishing without a license during a fishing vacation photo op? I want to say GHW Bush, but maybe it was Clinton? Or a senator?

  24. Oh FFS, some of you here are heartless bastards. The man was put in jail for fishing, FOR FUCKING FISHING!

    To the guy who wonders if he was doing this for sport of for food, I would have to assume (though I suppose I could be wrong) that he was doing this for food. You know, to feed is family.

    To the people on about the forced labour vs. forced fine. It’s typically like this, the number of community service hours far out weighs what somebody could reasonable earn even at above minimum wage. Therefore, it’s a fairly stiff penalty but if you haven’t got the money then maybe that would still be a better option. From the states point of view it should be better. Free work, fine payed off, sentence served.

    The class warfare angle is a little more than important. Poor people are shit on all the time by the so-called justice system. And then all the privileged and ignorant (or mean) people come out to say craptastic things like ‘well that’s what you get for being poor,’ or ‘he broke the law and should be punished,’ or ‘get a job you slob!’ ETC.! For all you jerks that think this guy got what was coming to him for putting a tiny little toe across the line of the law in order to support himself and his; and to those that think this is a fair punishment for this very minor transgression (which the cop should have been able to exercise a little discretion/judgment on in the first place) I have to say this… can any of you armchair judgement passers truly say that you have not committed equal or greater mistakes, intentional or not in order to survive? If you have then think about what you are saying. If you have not then think about the privilege and luck that life has afforded you and be thankful you haven’t had to wonder where your next meal would come from.

    Finally, this is not a system of ‘code law’ it is a system of common law. What that means is that the judge/state/administration/enforcement system has leeway and can contemplate other circumstances outside of just the letter of the law. And in this case they damn well should have. As it stands this judge and everybody else down the line just look like huge jerks with no compassion or sense of what is actually right or wrong.

  25. “But Dewitt, 19 years old with a fiancée and a nine-month-old son,” the most worrisome part of the story for me.  Tells me all I need to know of the person.

    1. You must be a very perceptive individual. All that tells me is that he had sex at some point after becoming a legal adult and that he didn’t force his girlfriend to have an abortion. Anything else would be conjecture.

    2. Yep, it tells me that rather than just abandon the kid and skip town, he is committed to being a husband and father. That reads “stand-up guy” to me.

      Wait, isn’t that what you meant, too?

      1. My viewpoint is coming as someone who had a kid at 17 due to a lovely contraception failure.  Both the mother and I knew that A. we were too young (in high school) to take care of him properly B. coming from a separated parents my self, didn’t want him to grow up in an environment like that (her father took a job out of state and had to move). C. we both wanted the best for him so we opted for adoption.  He, now being 12, lives with a great family in the New England area and is doing wonderfully.  While you can saying it was a cop out to “give him up” or what ever, for all involved it was the best decision.  There are a large amount of couples that can’t for some reason have children themselves.  Adoption is a good alternative to a potential life of hardship that is unnecessary for the child.  I don’t condone it as an option to just go crazy and have unprotected sex and be stupid.  I also don’t condone “doing the right thing” for the sake of doing it. 18 working at a grocery store (then out of a job) isn’t exactly the best situation to be raising a child either.

        1. I can’t argue with your life choices, but judging him simply because they haven’t put the kid up for adoption seems… harsh. My wife’s parents had their first child under similar circumstances, and he’s a great guy; I don’t think it’s destiny.

        2. Isn’t it great that you guys were able to make a CHOICE that felt right to you!? How fortunate. Too bad you don’t seem to think other people should have that.

        3. Things being relative….if an upper class family with millions in assets  takes a shine to a bright middle class kid – is it unethical for the parents of that kid not to accept the offer of the richer parents to adopt their child. Perhaps there should be legal levers in place to ‘encourage’ the less-well-off parents to surrender their child in this situation?

          After all, an Ivy League education for college and a Mercedes as  a sixteenth birthday gift is better than a ‘ghetto education’ at a state university and having to work summer jobs to buy an old Ford or Toyota, right? 

          1. No one said anything about Ivy League and Mercedes until I did. 

            I would also like to say that your initial comment is probably at least kinda what a lot of people thought, me included. Your second (well-written) comment added context to your first and given that you’ve been in that situation, you certainly do have the right to pass comment, if not judgement, on our nineteen-year-old fisherman. At least more of a right than most us us commenting on this dude’s crime and punishment.

            I was just pointing out there is a spectrum and sometimes a bit of hyperbole can help make a point. No offence meant to you, sorry if I came off that way.Cheers!

        4. Newsflash! Not every child in the world is born and raised “in the best situation”. My parents worked damn hard to make sure I had everything I needed even though they weren’t married until after I was born and didn’t have stable careers. 30 years later they are still happily married and I even turned out alright. And you know what? Fuck anyone that would try and look down on someone for that!

  26. TL:DR

    We (the U.S.) are just begging for a Judge Dredd approach.

    Three days in jail and no way to provide for his family.  Should have just called in social services while we were at it.  Could have thrown mom in jail too for being a substandard mother.  (At least she’d have something to eat then.)   *sarcasm*

  27. I think one of the great victories (ahem) over the last thirty years is turning the application of justice from, “Let us see that the interests of justice are done with due regard to the needs of society, tempered with mercy” to “Let us make absolutely sure that *no one gets away with something*.” It’s court-approved road rage.

  28. It has been said a great many times, but it bears repeating to note that n order to ‘get away’ with a crime, it appears necessary to steal millions or billions in the US at least. 

    This poor schmuck goes to jail for 3 days, which is exactly 3 days more than the vast majority of the Wall Street maniacs who have so successfully destroyed the US economy.  

  29. “We don’t look to poor people and go, “Oh it’s okay if you robbed that store, you’re poor!”

    Nah, but we do tend to say “Oh it’s ok you robbed the economy and we’re headed for a massive depression; you’re rich!!!”

  30. Do we think it’s just this one judge, or is this a statewide policy? I had to pay a court in New Jersey a chunk of cash, and they were completely fine with a payment plan. All I did was say I couldn’t pay it all at once, and I’m two years older than this guy. Scary.

  31. BTW, I encourage everyone to follow the link given above:

    I really do not see how the interests of the state or the causes of justice are being served by the state’s behavior in these cases.

  32. Let me go on record with saying Ionia has at very least 4 correctional facilities.  It is a popular common joke amongst the prison population there that Ionia is pronounced “I OWN YA”.  Not surprised at all that the county isn’t letting this slide.

  33. The law is the law.  Cut the baby in half and if either mother protests cut her in half as well.  Anything less would undermine our system of laws and sense of justice. If you want to play in our society you had better not fall on hard times or you will pay the price. (sarcasm or satire, I forget which)

  34. The judge was a total tool for not allowing the guy to pay the fine in installations.  I believe I’d make sure to post a huge sign on my car telling all about the judge’s unwillingness to meet a penitent lawbreaker halfway at a reasonable and resource-friendly solution.

    But on the upside of this absurd situation, at least the judge arranged free room & meals for 3 days for the guy – paid for by us fine taxpayers.

    1. As Chief District Court Judge, Raymond P. Voet is an elected official. I’m not sure of the precinct boundaries (just Ionia County?), but Michigan residents may want to review this decision and Judge Voet’s other actions, and make a decision of their own about replacing him at the next election.

  35. Perhaps the biggest mistake this poor shlub made was that he only stole a fish…

    Had he bilked dozens or hundreds of people out of millions of dollars, he’d be sitting pretty in a posh hotel room for months during the sham of a trial that would eventually fail to convict.

  36. If you google the judge’s name it has a phone number.  I guess the old saying is right, “You can give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, or you can teach a man to fish and then lock him up in jail and pay thousands of dollars to feed him for a week.”

    1. Refusing to collaborate with your former partner to help feed your kid is several levels higher on the heinous scale than catching a fish out of season.  If you have wages, they’ll garnish them first, and likely would agree to a payment plan.  A congressman, Joe Walsh, allegedly owes 100k in back child support.  He took international vacations with a girlfriend during the time he said he had no income and was refusing to pay.  If you think he’s getting the same type of treatment Kyle here is, I’ve a bridge to sell you.

    2. Well, you sir, I believe, win the Friedman Award for most backward, insensitive, gross-misunderstanding-of-a-situation-possible comment. Congratulations, your prize is a big bag of horseshit. It should look nice on the huge pile you already have.

  37. Shame on Michigan.  Too bad that poor fella & his family aren’t in Alaska.  In Alaska we allow subsistence fishing.  Of course, we’ve got whole villages full of families who live the subsistence lifestyle.

  38. Does anyone else want to say this judge is in the pockets of the commercial fishing industry?

    Seriously though, he actually jailed a man for trying to provide for his family the only way he could, because the food he provided was out-of-season? That’s easy for a judge to do when he has job security putting other people in jail that don’t have a job at all!

  39. This reminds me of a Boston Legal episode where a Vietnam veteran was also not able to pay his fishing fines (he fished to fend off starvation). In the TV series it was a plot device to talk about the treatment of US veterans. In this case, reality is way ahead of fiction.
    (Boston Legal, “Tabloid Nation” #4.15,

  40. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

    Teach him to fish and the Right Wing Nazi Cops will throw him in jail
    which will feed him for years with the higher taxes on the middle class?

    In some places in Europe you are fined based on your income.

    Poor pay less than a rich fat cat.

  41. Jean Valjean (also referred to as “Monsieur Madeleine,” “Ultime Fauchelevent,” “Monsieur Leblanc,” “Urbain Fabre,” “24601” and “9430”; c. 1769-1833) is the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables. Hugo depicts the character’s nineteen year-long struggle with the law for stealing bread so he could feed his sister’s children (5 years for the theft, 12 years for four attempted escapes and 2 years for fighting back during one escape attempt) during a time of economic and social depression. Valjean, along with his nemesis, Police Inspector Javert, who relentlessly pursues Valjean, have become archetypal characters in literary culture. Wikipedia quote.

    Judge Javert, meet Michigan’s Jean Valjean.

    1. Great idea! Even better we should just stop having kids altogether*. Please take my advice and don’t add more crap to the gene pool. If you already have goofed up and have kids, you might consider offing them and of course while you’re at it you might as well follow after them. Seriously, trolls shouldn’t breed because we reached and breached our quota of jerks, idiots, ignoramuses and asshats quite some time ago.

      Or, things are always so simple for people up in the clouds looking down on all of the poor unwashed masses aren’t they.

      *I actually support this idea since it seems population explosion is one of the root causes of many hardships on this little rock. One example being increasing scarcity of food.

    2. Davina, how about not passing laws that make it more difficult for people to feed their children? You do understand that the Social Security and Medicare benefits that I’m sure you haven’t opted out of and are planning on cashing in eventually will have to be paid by taxing the labor of future generations? So y’all better get breeding right away!

  42. This is nothing new. Judges have been putting the poor in jail for not paying fines for as long as I can remember. I had this happen to me when I was younger(1985). These days, if you can not pay a bill, they lock you up. If you do not show up for your ‘trial’ the non judge person in charge of the ‘court’ issues a contempt of court order and you are jailed. Not showing up used to just be an automatic default and you were guilty of owing the money due . Now automatic jail time.

  43. Legally, does the Judge even have the option to accept a payment plan for legal fines?

    Just how big of a crime can he commit before people stop thinking being poor is a valid excuse?

    Just how big of a crime can he commit before people stop saying “people committing worse crimes aren’t punished as badly” (proportionately speaking)?

    The levied fine was either (a) $215, or (b) three days in jail.  He got option b.

    Debtors Prison is where they lock you up *UNTIL* somebody pays your debt for you; not for a period of time *INSTEAD* of paying a fine.

    He’s unemployed.  Three days in the klink should be a vast improvement over the option of giving up a bunch of money that you absolutely cannot afford to lose.  The $100 he already had can feed his wife and child in the meantime, and his meals are free.

    I do applaud the kid for a provider ethic though, a lovely refresher over the more typical justification of theft.  I would like to know more about the fish in question.  In many (most?) states it’s acknowledged that you can’t be blamed for the type of fish that bites your hook, and the illegality lies in not throwing the unlawful fish back in the water right away.

  44. …what does his fiance’ do for employment?

    If she’s close to his age then odds are that she’d have a hard time finding a job that would even cover the cost of childcare, much less support a family of three. At the very least she’s caring for a nine-month-old infant, and I can assure you from personal experience that’s much more work than most teens will ever do.

    1. I very much agree with you, but in a family/group situation when there is more than one individual capable of obtaining employment, then whoever finds a job first goes to work and the other stays home and takes care of the kid(s).

  45. I am actually curious to find out whether or not he was fishing for recreation of as a needed food source. The article does not mention this and I’ve already seen a few comments of people hot under the collar about him just trying to survive. Just curious about his original intent. Whether of not this fish meant eating tonight for him and his family.

  46. By saying this guy was punished for being poor is down right ridiculous. He was fined for breaking the law not being poor. Also, everyone is jumping to conclusions about the judge and the not so wise fisherman. Instead of jumping on his side saying they should have given this guy a line of credit (which is the obvious, decent thing to do in this, our welfare society), why not ask “Was this the guy’s first offense?” “Had he been warned and didn’t heed the warnings?” I’m sorry but I come from an area that takes pride in their hunting and fishing and any capture or killing of an animal outside of the established law is poaching, plain and simple.
    Also, why was he fishing when he could have been looking for a job?
    And that’s a sunfish, or a brim, closely related to (but not) a blue gill.

    1. I know everyone wants desperately to correct everyone else on the damn fish but there’s no freshwater “sunfish”. Sunfish is a common name for a genus of fish which contain bluegill. So you’re all right.

  47. That judge needs to go to jail for 3 days and give 3 days worth of his pay to that fisherman.  Or be fired.

  48. I don’t have an hour to read thru all the comments, just want to say:

    I sure wish this was the only way that poverty became a crime.  

    Auto insurance and registration seem like particularly common hardships on the poor to me.  If people are on food stamps (or could be), cut all government fees and fines in half, or whatever.  Otherwise, all punitive fines are regressive.

    1. I’m with you on fines, but a fee is fundamentally different from a fine. The former covers costs for an (ideally non-critical) activity, the latter is a punitive measure. It may be hard for a poor person to afford car insurance, but if you get hit by a poor driver you deserve compensation for damage and injuries just as much as if you get hit by a rich one.

  49. By saying this guy was punished for being poor is down right ridiculous.
    He was fined for breaking the law not being poor.

    I think that everyone agrees that the fine was for breaking the law.  The “punishment for being poor” was being jailed when he couldn’t pay the $250 fine up front. 

    Also, everyone is
    jumping to conclusions about the judge and the not so wise fisherman.
    Instead of jumping on his side saying they should have given this guy a
    line of credit (which is the obvious, decent thing to do in this, our
    welfare society), why not ask “Was this the guy’s first offense?” “Had
    he been warned and didn’t heed the warnings?”

    This is really silly.  Your little quip about the “welfare society” suggests you’re one of those anti-statist libertarian types, but at the same time you’re cooing about how important it is for the state to interfere with people trying to feed themselves the way human beings have been feeding themselves for hundreds of thousands of years.  If you’re opposed to “welfare society” then why do you think the solution is to pay to jail him for 3 days instead of trying to recoup the money by say…letting the guy delay payment until he actually has the money?  Instead the state spends money and law enforcement man hours that would have been better spent on violent offenders and this guy loses three days of his life he could have spent looking for a job.  Not only that, but now that he’s gone to jail it’s even tougher for him to get a job.

    I bet you even think of yourself as a steely-eyed pragmatist despite the fact that you can’t see the judge ordered the worst outcome for the man, the wife, the child, the taxpayers, and society in general.

    I’m sorry but I come from
    an area that takes pride in their hunting and fishing and any capture or
    killing of an animal outside of the established law is poaching, plain
    and simple.

    OK, and a fine was levied for fishing out of season — fair.  And the guy was jailed for not being able to pay it — not fair.  This is a relatively plain and simple distinction to make.

    You root for the Sheriff of Nottingham when you watch Robin Hood movies, don’t you?

  50. My boyfriend spent 9 1/2 weeks in jail only for being too poor to make bail. Caring for a loved one in jail is ruinously expensive on top of losing one wage: commissary money, mail-order books, visiting regularly (transportation and time off work), etc. put us in a hole we still haven’t gotten out of. The cost of phone conversations would be a scandal if people cared about prisoners at all. 

    He was not convicted, so I suppose a lot of law and order people would say “See! The system works!”, but he’s never been the same. Our family is still wounded with him. Even if you believe that bad people should have no rights or comforts, think about how many people sitting at that jail have been convicted of truly petty offenses like fishing out of season or haven’t been convicted at all, and then think about what it does to them and their families.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your boy friend.

      The police have a lock em up attitude and use that to intimidate people into plea bargaining so they don’t have to do their jobs

  51. For those who don’t agree with the judge, what would you have the courts do? 

    Maybe accept the defendant’s more-than-reasonable offer to settle the fine over time?

  52. OMG, Really? Do you happen to own a prison? Callousness McJudgerson probably should have allowed the reasoned offer to pay installments, but apparently that’s too soft on the hardened crime of taking the King’s Deer, err, fish.
    Hang him from the bridge, right?
    Brightest cheese-eating minds of the 11th century, indeed.
    I said GOOD DAY.

  53. If it was a *public safety* issue, jail maybe makes some sense.. But it was not. It was a *resource* issue. I’m not sure if it was because he was caught in possession of a fish that was out of season or how proving what he was fishing for works, but… to me, from the state’s POV, it seems because it is more like a *resource* issue, that he was illegally availing himself of a *resource*, that it is a *revenue* issue.  So, rather than jailing him, which *decreases revenue*, appropriate community service (like cleaning up a waterway) would have been better all around.

    So isn’t what they did a little like “debtor’s prison”, which was one of the reasons for all that revolution constituion brou ha ha some while back? seems like there was something to do with that, anyway.

  54. Anyone disagree with those being all the options the court had?

    How about a payment plan? Remember, Instead he offered to pay $100 up front, and repay the rest in a month. You could do that, or let him pay $20 a month for a year, or whatever- much better for everyone involved, including the state, than sending him to jail (and paying for him to be kept in jail). This is what almost any other debt collector would want- they’d rather get paid *something* than have to pay to get nothing.

  55. Time payments or community service seem reasonable. For example, he could have been set clearing trash out of streams for a week.

  56. Which would you choose, community service or jail? If you’d choose jail, why?  In US jails, inmates are at high risk of violence, including rape.  Exposing him to this risk is a disproportionate response to his crime.
    Community service exposes him to a work environment and allows him to benefit the community, instead of keeping company with violent types and draining resources.
    Bill of rights forbids cruel and unusual punishment.  Jailing someone for three days for a fine that normally is settled through fines is cruel.  Giving him the choice of working off the sentence is less cruel.  It’s commonly offered for far more noxious crimes. 

  57. Oh, but that would just encourage people to be poor. If we want people to stop making the “bad life choice” to be poor, we have to take money from them. Really, it’s just logical.

  58. Actually we do. Kids stealing bread from a market is a vintage storytelling cliche, and generally produces sympathy for the character (especially when they share the bread with a watery-eyed partner).

  59. This sad man’s poor decisions in life (having a child, non-stable job,
    terrible financial situation) should have no difference on the justice

    Yeah, fuck those poor people for choosing poverty!

    But really, any good justice system should be designed in such a way as to penalize people for breaking the law- not for being poor. A flat fee does not penalize all people equally: a rich guy could commit the same crime every day and never even notice the money missing from his bank account, whereas a poor person might have to forgo weeks of food to cover a single fine.

    If you want a justice system that penalizes people equally for the same actions then it must either take the form of “time served” (i.e. a certain number of hours of community service) or a fine that is proportionate to the assets of the offender.

  60. Bass fishing is in no way related to robbing a store. Get a sense of perspective before you make another damnfool comment like that.

  61. This is pretty easy. 
    If you are rich and break the law, there will be no fine to pay. You will not go to jail, and the Federal government will bail out your failed institution with taxpayer dollars.

    We do look at rich people and go, “Oh, it’s okay if you defrauded thousands of people, you’re rich.”

  62. Wow. I didn’t know that not paying a fine for fishing was equivalent to robbing a bank. Oh wait…it is if you’re poor. Thanks for edumacating me Mrs. Tea!

  63. I like the cut of your jib! I quite agree with your argument, after all how dare those filthy ragamuffins try something so stupid as taking fish out of season. Forgive my short post as my friend just flew in and has need of one of my yachts. That caviar won’t eat itself, toddles! 

  64. Steve-You can not be that stupid.3 day of housing him will cost more than they would get if someone payed his fine.And bad decision are you kidding me.he was in high school that is why he did not have stable employment.It is not against the law to be poor.I Was too busy with college to work full time at 19 & I would bet 90% of us did not have high paying stable fulltime employment at 19.Most kids would have their parents pay this fine but he offered a 100 now and the rest in a month.His decisions do not even relate he took the unstable job when he lived with Mom & Dad.then he did what 80% of kids his age do and had premarital sex with someone he loved enough to want to marry.I wont get into whether premarital sex is right or wrong.It does not matter it is not illegal.His crime was catching the wrong fish and not being given the chance to throw it back.Do you always catch the exact fish you are looking for the first time.This should have been a warning & nothing more.It is awaste of taxpayer money.when the ACLU gets done the town will lose Thousands& have to pay a settlement.If you have never paid a late bill you can talk.No reasonable person would expect to be arrested fined & jailed for catching a fish in a public river or pond.The Judge was the one who was irresponsible with Taxpayer money.Oh one more thing grow a heart Steve& stop being Emotionally Retarded.The kid may have made a mistake or two but he did nothing hard would it have been to refer the kid to social services & Help him, his kid & His fiancee out. One trip to job services in his area would probably save the town & the state thousands.Make that one of his release conditions.And find real crime for your police to fight.        

  65. You seem like a “law-and-order” type, so why are you ignoring the fact that the incarceration is unconstitutional?  Sometimes it’s ok to ignore when someone throws around the “unconstitutional” word, because what they really mean is “unjust”.  However, the ACLU is generally a little more careful than with that word, and as it turns out, if you look at the court briefing, they actually cite both a U.S. Supreme Court case and a Michigan State Supreme Court case.  In the U.S. case (Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 1983), the court held that “If a State determines a fine or restitution to be the appropriate and adequate penalty for the crime, it may not thereafter imprison a person solely because he lacked the resources to pay it.”, citing the fundamental fairness requirement of the 14th amendment.  The Michigan constitution explicitly forbids imprisonment for debt except in cases of fraud or breach of trust (Article I, Section 21) and the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the applicability of that clause to court-ordered fines (People v. Jackson, 483 Mich 271).  So, how is this simple?

  66. Because punishment is meant to fit a crime. Failure to pay $215 immediately does not warrant jail when an alternative has been offered. I doubt Michigan enforces traffic fines this harshly.

  67. Why is forced labor more appropriate than forced imprisonment

    Offering the option of paying a debt to society via physical or clerical community service would fulfill the need for punishment without wasting a bunch of the state’s money and resources, for one. Imprisonment should be a last resort for people convicted of misdemeanors.

  68. Why should a defendant get to schedule his penalty?

    I have no idea why throwing him in jail over a 30 day difference in payment schedule serves the ends of justice in this case.

    Should someone sentenced to jail be able to choose when he serves his time?

    Happens all the time.

  69. It’s common enough for people to get permission for a delay between sentencing and serving time. I think it makes even more sense for payment of a fine.

  70. Sure, people should have some leeway to schedule their penalties, depending on the offense. It’s not like this guy poses some kind of public safety risk if he isn’t in jail or paying his fine, so it doesn’t really matter a whole lot when he pays or serves, within reason.

    I knew a guy who served a few weeks for a drug-related offense. After sentencing they let him go free with an order to report to the county jail within the next two weeks to serve his time. That gave him some time to arrange for a leave of absence from work so that when he got out he’d have a job. Doesn’t do anybody any good to have guys like that lose a job.

  71. The court is not a bank. The court isn’t Paychex4cash. The court has rules, you follow them, or you go to jail.  Sorry this guy is down on his luck, but the point is we have laws, and we can’t just break them because you are poor. I would like to go back further and explore the defendant’s disputing of the original crime. Does he really say he wasn’t fishing? Was the season and the rules unclear? Did he buy a fish and put it on his hook near the river? What really happened.

  72. For starters, the court could have recognized that people HAVE TO EAT OR DIE, whether thay have money or not. This man was doing what sane and responsible men and women have done worldwide for 100,000 years: WHAT NEEDS DOING. He is not responsible for what “civilization” has done. Insanity is. In the eyes of ethical systems centuries old, the man is not guilty.

  73. Agreed. That was half of the fine, and how much did it cost to incarcerate the guy? Stupid. They should have allowed him to pay that in payments. 

  74. And because an anecdotal nursery rhyme that only you seem to remember exists, we should apply nursery logic to our problems in real life…?

  75. Yes, I’m offended by the existence of judges, too. Well, except maybe Judge Dredd. “Fishing out of season is an OFFENSE, CITIZEN!”

  76. Judges don’t let defendants choose when to serve their sentences, but they take requests into account. For example, if a convict is not considered a flight risk the judge may grant them a few weeks to get personal affairs in order before their sentence to make sure their kids will be cared for, their business will be managed, etc. Or they may not. It’s called “judicial discretion” and it’s been around since the days of Hammurabi.

  77. I don’t think you understand how community service works. The judge sentences the defendant to some form of community service and if the defendant refuses to do it THEN they go to jail.

  78. No, the judge’s job is to mechanically impose whatever penalty is in the statue book without fear, favor, mercy or, well, judgement. How could you think otherwise?

  79. Contributing to society rather than burdening it.

    If I had a young child and wife to support and was out of work, I’d be looking for a job, not fishing.

  80. Yes, it would be insane if judges had any discretion whatsoever in order to fit punishment to a particular situation. It’s good that they don’t.

  81. Neither is a judge a 2-bit algorithm obliged to follow a pre-defined set of a few simple rules with no scope for the exercise of… you know… judgement. And if the law in Michigan happens to be so damn strict in this specific case as to tie the judges hands, then it is a stupid, unethical law. Our laws are there to reflect our ethics, not the other way around!

  82. Courts act like banks all the time. Actually, they act like social service agencies with a billing function. A court order that says . . . anything (legal) . . . will be enforced. So, adjudicated to $100 today, $125 within 30 days or evidence of 10 hours of approved public service would not be hard to enforce. Really, locking him up was the most pointless option available to the court.

  83. Kohlburg’s Moral development…Stage 4, law and order no matter what.

    No thanks. I prefer a justice system that looks at each case, not as a cookie cutter policy meant to make life better for the rich and penalize the poor. 
    Somehow I’m having a hard time believing a fish caught out of season, by a guy that offered a reasonable payment, being deserving of an expensive stay at the Barred Window Hotel. 
    But apparently, that math is not the first thing that comes to the stage 4 mind. 

  84. Well, someone needs to complete the paperwork, but we can probably do that with just clerks. Someone commits a crime, they get convicted, we look up in the Big Book of Nasty Things We Do To Bad People what the penalty is, we impose it. What could be more just?

  85. This being said – isn’t this the way it is everywhere? In L.A. if you cannot pay parking tickets (at least 25 years ago) you could be arrested and sentenced to time in the L.A. County Jail.

  86. You’re probably one of those people who thinks that trees should just be allowed to decide if they are in a forest or not.

  87. Community service ordered by the court is forced labor.  How is that any better than forced incarceration?

    I already answered that question directly in an earlier post. We can go in circles all day if you like.

  88. “If the judge thought that letting him pay over time diminished the punitive aspect, isn’t that a fair reason to choose a different penalty (such as jail)?”

    You’re seriously suggesting that $215 as a lump sum is somehow less painful, less punitive, than $100 now and $115 in 30 days?

    You’ve never been poor, have you?

  89. statistics.  if you have money/fame/etc, you are exempt from the same justice system applied to people at the other end. 

  90. If I had a young child and wife to support and was out of work, I’d be looking for a job, not fishing.

    So goes the old saying, “You either fish or fill out job applications. You can’t do both.”

  91. So after you’ve papered the area with your resume, and there are no callbacks for interviews, whatcha gonna do then? If I were your wife, I’d be down at the river getting us some dinner, cause you’re too passive and the baby is hungry. 

  92. Trailers for it looked cool.  If nothing else, there’s likely there’s clips from it that would be appropriate for threads like this. 

  93. He does not have that cash.

    Do you think he’s using that month to invest it in a high-interest savings account?

  94. That, of course, supposes that he had the money lying around and was, for some reason, perversely refusing to pay it to the court. On what do you base that supposition?

  95. Here. I quoted the original question and everything. If you can’t understand why it’s better for everyone, including the state, to have low-level offenders settle their debts to society though productive work rather than costly imprisonment then I guess we are at an impasse or sorts.

  96. If I have to go elsewhere to get off on my punishment fetish vicariously, then I don’t want to be an American anymore.

  97. I read about one of the northern countries like Iceland or Norway that would ticket speeders on a percentage scale according to income. It makes sense since a rich person would be given a fine that would make them feel the same pinch as a poor person. They should have that here.  

  98. Ahem, I know you to be a fraud! The correct agreed-upon spelling is now “toudghelles”. You clearly weren’t at the last meeting. 

  99. I have to seriously second the comments on judicial discretion.

    I knew a couple that was arrested for selling forged celebrity signatures on eBay, which gets treated more seriously since it involves the mail.  They each got more than a year but the judge staggered their sentences by so many months that their severely handicapped child only had to spend a few months with other family.  One parent was allowed to wait almost a year before going in.

  100. what the judge did is not ‘like’ debtor’s prison. it is debtors prison, plain and simple. the man could not pay a debt due to being poor. and he was thrown in jail for it. except that in this instance he was jailed with actual criminals, whereas historical debtor prisons housed only those who owed debts.

    i bet it cost the state of michigan more to jail this guy for 3 days than the original fine. and michigan tax payers get to foot the bill so the scum bag judge can make what ever point he was trying to with this ruling. what a lovely state michigan has become become!

  101. Agreed. It seems the semantics game always favors those without ethics. “I think the law means… Jail.” but never ” I think the law doesn’t mean you at all. you are free to go.”
    I always found it odd you can’t write-in local governing officials… maybe they can’t afford them fancy-pantsy, rigged, voten’ machines

  102. There is no freshwater “sunfish” there is a “Bluegill Sunfish” and a “Redear Sunfish” and a “Longear Sunfish” and numerous other “… Sunfish”‘s.

    So when you wrote “that’s a sunfish, or a brim, closely related to (but not) a blue gill” you said said the equivalent of “that’s a steak, closely related to (but not) a New York Strip”.

  103. Okay man. From someone that has been catching bluegill, brim, and other perch and the like since they were a kid: A brim is the common name for the generalized sunfish, pictured above. However, it is not a bluegill. Bluegill are much smaller than that. And idk where you’re getting there are no freshwater sunfish. That is ridiculous.

  104. For my elementary students: all bluegill are sunfish, but not all sunfish are bluegill…. Is that easier to understand.

  105. Condescension is not a logical argument. 

    If you can show me a freshwater fish that looks like the above that is simply and officially (rather than colloquially or generically) called “Sunfish” I’ll accept that you are correct. What is pictured above is a sunfish but it is a certain type of sunfish (an argument I’m not entering). You say it’s not a bluegill, that’s fine. But it is a “-something- Sunfish” (there is a saltwater “Sunfish”, which is why I say there’s no freshwater fish called only a “sunfish”). Earlier you said “It’s a sunfish, not a bluegill” then your last post contradicts this by saying that “all bluegill are sunfish”. So I’m wondering where you were going with that line.I’ve been fishing all my life as well, that makes neither one of us an unqualified expert on the matter.  Just as there are bass in the generic sense, in North America it is either a Smallmouth or a Largemouth bass. But now I’ve been sucked into a pointless internet argument and it’s my own fault for taking the bait. I should do a better job of avoiding the trolling lanes.

  106. No one disputes that poor people who break the law deserve punishment. What is being disputed is whether imprisonment for the inability to pay a fee is a just or efficient way to punish a misdemeanor, particularly when several other options were available.

  107. In what universe does it make more sense for the state to spend precious resources putting this guy in jail instead of finding an alternative punishment? The judge could have ordered him to perform valuable community service or put together a payment plan, perhaps even one that charged interest on his fine. Either of those options would have sufficed to teach the young man a lesson without depriving his family of support or draining the state’s coffers. Instead, the judge chose option C: “everybody loses.”

  108. Seems like you are trying to make the argument that Louisiana is even more backward, vindictive and bullheaded than Michigan when it comes to matters of ‘poaching’.

    Here’s a few things to mull over. Do you think Mr. DeWitt (the star/poor man of this conversation) would have gone this route if he a) had money for a fishing license b) could have found decent work or c) just come up with the money to pay his fine? We have established that this man was poor, out of work and wanted to support his wife and child (which are very admirable pursuits). He probably (though I don’t know for sure) tried everything he could before to make ends meet and following his ticketing he probably tried even harder, perhaps asking friends and family for support or taking odd jobs. Hell, he did have a hundred dollars he offered in good faith to try and make good on his debt to society. And his reward for trying so hard was to be kicked in the teeth (metaphorically), sent to jail (at taxpayer expense) and still be back where he started off or worse; with no job, two other people to help support, a record, a target on his back (I’m sure that this judge and all the other law enforcement types will now know his name and keep it in their minds should he ever cross paths with one again), and in addition to that he can’t fish.

    But yeah, you’re surely right that ‘he got what he deserved’. And obviously he needs to get off his lazy ass and find a job, like yesterday. And in the mean time he can hope to find some fresh juicy roadkill to tide his family over, on the proviso that it is not out of season or there is some damn fool law about collecting dead animals.

  109. It’s either do this (pay) or do this (jail time), no leniency.

    That false dichotomy is exactly what I’m disputing. There were legal, effective, less wasteful, and more just punishments available no matter how loudly you protest otherwise.

  110. this was my reply to a comment that I don’t see now

    When you leave high school or college and actually have to apply for jobs – you will learn that that applications that ask about any convictions will ask about misdemeanors too, and even ‘major’ traffic infractions. 

    Also – even jobs that ask for a resume will require you to fill out an application if they want to hire you.

  111. So lie on your application and say no convictions, it isn’t like companies actually check that sort of thing.  Criminal background checks cost money

    What is the alternative?  Never being considered for one second for the job so basically there is nothing to loose by checking ‘no convictions’

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