Fee Hike in New Jersey’s Largest Municipal Court Points to National Trend in Offender-funded Justice

By E. Tammy Kim, Al Jazeera – NEWARK, N.J. — Newly elected Mayor Ras J. Baraka, a former high school principal and son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, ran on promises of compassionate reform. He would strengthen the public schools, alleviate poverty and use community policing to bring peace to his majority-African American hometown. But in November, a few months into his term, Baraka quietly helped pass a law that criminal justice advocates say will hurt the city’s most vulnerable: He quadrupled the fee Newark Municipal Court can charge poor defendants applying for free legal representation. The fee hike, from $50 to $200, is the latest notch in the national trend of charging “user fees” to fund struggling courts. The Sixth Amendment and a long line of Supreme Court cases promise a lawyer to every person accused of a crime, even those who cannot pay. In practice, though, indigent clients often do pay...

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