People in poverty in Virginia dealing with the criminal justice system may find themselves further mired in economic disadvantage as a result. Many policies adopted by state and local officials across the country tend to systematically impact poor and marginalized people far more significantly than those of greater means. In particular, many areas rely on court fees and fines to balance the municipal budget. When people cannot pay these fees, the escalating consequences can severely affect people's lives. For example, people face even more costly fees, a damaged credit score or even jail time as a result.
In all criminal cases in Virginia and across the country, defendants have a right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment sets forth that the defendant in a criminal trial cannot be forced to testify. The origins of the right are rooted in a refusal by the Puritans to cooperate with English interrogators in the 1600s. Puritans who fled persecution based on religion brought the idea of a protection against self-incrimination along to America.
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment's "excessive fines" clause applies to the states. In other words, both states and the federal government are prohibited from levying excessive fines. It also ruled that civil asset forfeitures in criminal cases are fines for the purpose of the amendment. Therefore, governments in the U.S. cannot engage in excessive asset seizures.