And Justice For All
March 22, 2018 10:04 AM   Subscribe

“If you are seeking a sentence of 3 years incarceration, state on the record that the cost to the taxpayer will be $126,000.00 (3 x $42,000.00) if not more and explain why you believe the cost is justified.” Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner Leading A Criminal Justice Revolution (The Intercept). Inside The Fight Against Cash Bail, Meet The Advocates Working To End The Predatory Practice (Pacific Standard). A Billionare And A Nurse Shouldn't Pay The Same Fine For Speeding (NYT Opinion).
posted by The Whelk (35 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read the krasner memo the other day and was impressed as all heck. This is really encouraging to see.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 10:07 AM on March 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


I heard Krasner interviewed on "Undisclosed" podcast right before the election and I was so impressed. I'm glad he's walking the walk.
posted by xingcat at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Krasner is leading the way, but a lot of other progressive DAs are getting elected. I think we're at the front of a real change here.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


Finland can charge income-based fines because tax data are transparent there. We still have pushback in the US as to the idea of the sitting President making his tax returns and financial interests public, some politicians across the country still get paid by a handful of billionaires to push regressive flat tax schemes that somehow get traction with low- and middle-income voters, and we have systemic discrimination that encourages treating gay people, people of color, and women differently in many aspects, including economically. Progressive fines are a great idea and easy to implement in Nordic countries where notions of basic fairness and equality are learned from birth, but its implementation in the US would seem to take generations to implement successfully, probably requiring another Great Depression or other significant economic disaster to force the necessary changes.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


probably requiring another Great Depression or other significant economic disaster to force the necessary changes

Good news!
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:47 AM on March 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


Also I always want to push back on the 'we can't do [sensible thing] because America is [differeint in some way]'. It's lazy and impossible to argue against because the naysayer can always just pick another thing that makes america different from everyone else. It's not do the opposition's work for them.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:56 AM on March 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


Finland can charge income-based fines because tax data are transparent there.

I'm confused. The basic premise of income tax is that one is obliged to declare one's income to the state. State and federal administrations, by law, have a right to the information required for the implementation of this. The fact that the data aren't published is no more an argument against proportional fines than it is against income taxes themselves. Unless you're just making a sort of general "pft you can't have progressive policies in America, just give up" comment, but that would be pointless.
posted by howfar at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2018 [14 favorites]


The fact that the data aren't published is no more an argument against proportional fines than it is against income taxes themselves.

Is it? There's (rightfully) many layers of abstraction between the IRS and a city cop issuing speeding/parking tickets. We either leak tax and income information to local authorities at the discretion of the cop or the IRS handles the amount on the traffic tickets.

It'd be a different story if everyone's tax stuff was public.
posted by Talez at 11:32 AM on March 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


We either leak tax and income information to local authorities at the discretion of the cop or the IRS handles the amount on the traffic tickets

The latter seems fine doesn't it?
posted by howfar at 11:34 AM on March 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


As a Philadelphian, I am so proud that we elected Krasner. And he'd be the first to point out that he's not alone. We've got some pretty damn great elected officials who are fighting hard to make the city better for all of us. I'm excited to see where we can go from here.
posted by mcduff at 11:35 AM on March 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Krasner is the man. Hopefully this document serves as a blueprint for future revolutionary DAs.
posted by youthenrage at 12:01 PM on March 22, 2018


Also, there are plenty of states that charge income tax on their own. This doesn't even require the IRS to chip in. Also I fail to see how the cop or local authorities has to know anything about how much income you have to issue the ticket. Make the organization for handling these sorts of fines separate from the local authorities, and the local authorities get a lump sum payment without any indication of which offender contributed to what.
posted by Aleyn at 12:46 PM on March 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've always thought that speeding tickets should be a fine based on the amount over the speed limit multiplied by a number based on the value of your car. We could use Kelly Blue Book value or whatever. Because it makes no sense that a guy going 15 over the limit in a 1984 Buick LeSabre should be charged the same amount as a guy in a 2018 Lamborghini Aventador. If I drive the former, there's a good chance that fine would fuck me over for the month. If I drive the latter, I'd probably just pull the $150 or whatever out of my wallet and toss it at the cop.
posted by nushustu at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


I fail to see how the cop or local authorities has to know anything about how much income you have to issue the ticket.

They don't, technically, but adding extra layers of bureaucracy and security risks to an already-stretched system comes with its own hassles, no matter how much imbalance it fixes.

If someone claims they were overcharged, is the IRS going to send a representative to claim otherwise? What kind of details will they have to place in the public record? If the police think someone was undercharged, how do they challenge that? How do you adjust for bizarre tax shenanigans? The president's taxable income in 1995 was negative $900m. (Do you count income before deductions, or after?)

I would love to see income-based fines, but I suspect they'd require both public tax records and a whole lot of discussion about what counts as "income:" a billionaire living on interest and dividends may not have much "income" despite having plenty in the bank.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:14 PM on March 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Peg fines to assets rather than income. Require people sentenced to pay a fine to report their total assets to the IRS or state-level equivalent, and calculate the amount of the fine accordingly. Let fraudulent reporting of assets for this purpose be a felony, punishable with additional fines and jail time. Use some of the revenue generated by these fines to help fund IRS enforcement of the law.

Punitive fines absolutely have to be scaled according to a person's wealth, otherwise they are unjust. If there is ever a movement for a new Bill of Rights to amend the Constitution, this should be in there.
posted by biogeo at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


How about a financial death penalty of complete impoverishment for X years for SEC convictions.

How about % of your net worth goes to the SEC prosecutors upon conviction as a way to fight regulatory capture?

That would get the banks honest again, real fast.
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:28 PM on March 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is it? There's (rightfully) many layers of abstraction between the IRS and a city cop issuing speeding/parking tickets.

Please tell me that there aren't any places in the US where the cop just writes out a dollar amount and the driver hands over cash. Surely the system of collecting money, and the system of deciding the amount of the fine for the offence, is layers away from the cop handing out speeding tickets. Right?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:03 PM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Please tell me that there aren't any places in the US where the cop just writes out a dollar amount and the driver hands over cash.

No, it doesn't work that way. I can't speak to all traffic laws in the various states, but basically a speeding ticket has a fine amount statutorily dictated by how much past the limit you were traveling (with additional fines for exceeding the limit by a lot, i.e., reckless driving). So, the cop tags you with a radar gun and writes you a ticket, you have some time to either pay it or decide to fight it in a special traffic court (you're almost guaranteed to lose; there's an old myth about hoping the cop doesn't show up, but in fact they get paid to show up so it's unlikely). Police can (at their discretion) write the ticket for less (e.g., 6-10 over if you were in fact going 11 over) and I think have some ability to dictate just how long you have to pay the ticket (I haven't gotten a ticket in years).
posted by axiom at 9:18 PM on March 22, 2018


Why wouldn't states or municipalities be able to access your income information? I mean if we're talking about Philadelphia, both the state of PA and the city have income tax authorities and demand tax forms every year so they already have the authority.
posted by octothorpe at 4:12 AM on March 23, 2018


I suspect that pegging fines to income or asset level would just result in a sudden uptick in the number of shell corporations, assets held in trust, and other exercises in creative accountancy.
posted by ook at 5:21 AM on March 23, 2018


I would love to see income-based fines, but I suspect they'd require both public tax records and a whole lot of discussion about what counts as "income:" a billionaire living on interest and dividends may not have much "income" despite having plenty in the bank.

you recognize this is literally required as a prerequisite for an income tax right
posted by PMdixon at 7:04 AM on March 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


Fines should absolutely be scaled by income.

We already track income and have a system in place to punish people who lie about it. It's not perfect but it's better than nothing. It'd be trivial to ask someone to submit a copy of their tax return to a court after they've been fined. You don't need new layers of bureaucracy at all, even in a no-income tax state. Just an extra piece of paperwork after the fine. Some income might leak but IMO there's no reason for it to be secret anyway.

Wealth is not tracked and so would be harder to implement. Heck, a big benefit for Piketty of the wealth tax was beginning to make wealth transparent; it's probably not traffic tickets that are going to build up the infrastructure here.

I also don't think it's "fairer" to use wealth. Wealth correlates with income and age. The young consultants pulling down six figures in their twenties might just be finishing off their college debt vs. a middle aged couple nearing retirement. I suppose a combination could be used but income is nice and simple.
posted by mark k at 7:29 AM on March 23, 2018


I suspect that pegging fines to income or asset level would just result in a sudden uptick in the number of shell corporations, assets held in trust, and other exercises in creative accountancy.

Why? I mean, the people who can and want to avoid and evade tax are doing it already. This is the same argument that is presented against any attempt to more fairly distribute wealth, and I think it's pretty much apple sauce. The fact that income taxation is susceptible to avoidance and evasion isn't an argument against setting taxes or fines at appropriate levels, it's an argument for more robust measures to prevent abuse of the system. Otherwise we might as well just throw up our hands and offer our necks to the boots of the wealthy, on the basis that there's no way we can change anything, despite the evidence from all around the world that this is defeatist nonsense. And even if I'm wrong, if we're going to lose anyway, would you rather do it on your feet or on your knees?
posted by howfar at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


How about a financial death penalty of complete impoverishment for X years for SEC convictions.

How about % of your net worth goes to the SEC prosecutors upon conviction as a way to fight regulatory capture?

That would get the banks honest again, real fast.


No, it would just increase the likelihood of financial firms interspersing sacrificial lambs between themselves and the SEC and/or Finra. The folks setting policy at financial firms are not the folks directing interfacing with clients. There are several layers of management between them, all insulating them and providing deniability.

...and the SEC doesn't regulate commercial banks. The above draconian suggestions you've made would have done nothing the prevent the chicanery at Wells Fargo, for example. You want either Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve, FDIC, and potentially either NCUA or OTS depending upon the type of bank.

When the system has gotten to such a train wreck that you're looking to destroy people's lives, what's really happened is a long chain of insufficient regulatory oversight, creating perverse incentives harming both individuals and the country as a whole. Instead of crying for blood, cry for proper regulation and oversight at all levels of the financial services industry, along with providing them enough resiliency and flexibility to address the needs and concerns of their clients. Look at how well Canadian banks performed during the financial crisis, for example. Good regulation helps everyone, including the banks.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:56 PM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


I mean, the people who can and want to avoid and evade tax are doing it already.

Well, yes: that was basically exactly my point.
posted by ook at 4:30 PM on March 23, 2018


It seems to me that your comment suggests (a) that income dependent fines would increase tax avoidance and/or evasion, and that (b) this would be the only effect of the policy ("would just result"). This is, I would suggest, entirely different to noting that tax avoidance and evasion exist, and is a version of the argument that the Right has been making against all forms of progressive taxation for 30-odd years. It's not a simple observation, it's an ideologically significant claim about the impact of revenue policy.

But, maybe more significantly, it seems to me that you're not addressing my broader response to your comment. Even in situations where tax avoidance and evasion increase with tax rates, it's entirely possible to legislate to reduce this, both by making many currently legal forms of tax avoidance illegal and by pursuing and punishing tax evasion more zealously. Arguing that more progressive revenue policy does not increase revenue, while neglecting options for more robust enforcement implies either that we cannot act to increase revenue compliance (which is, I would contend, false) or that we should not do so (which I'm confident you agree is morally repugnant).

I think that your comment implies much more than the simple observation that tax dodgers exist.
posted by howfar at 8:47 PM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


>I've always thought that speeding tickets should be a fine based on the amount over the speed limit multiplied by a number based on the value of your car.

Finland and a handful of other countries formulate fines based on your income.

posted by laptolain at 7:11 AM on March 24, 2018


I think I'm coming to this from a position of: when we have a congress or executive that seem inclined to act to punish tax avoidance rather than celebrate it, then everything you said sounds like a great idea. Yes, we should have a more progressive revenue policy. We should have more robust enforcement of the existing policies. We should reduce wealth disparity to the point where this sort of adjustment wouldn't even be necessary.

But we don't currently have any of those things, we're currently moving in exactly the opposite direction of all of them, and given that reality I believe this change would have a regressive effect. Which is the opposite of what we both want. I'm entirely in favor of anything that would help the US stop fucking over poor people. I just don't happen to agree that this is one of those things.

It's an appealingly simple-sounding idea! Just peg fines to income! Easy! But lately I've grown suspicious of appealingly simple-sounding ideas. (Why "income" instead of "wealth", for example? Should the trust-fund kid or the investor living off capital gains pay no fines because they don't need jobs?) If "but tax dodgers exist" is a talking point of The Right, well, okay. That's a bummer. But tax dodgers do, y'know, exist; I'd rather not let them be criminal-justice dodgers as well. Which, frankly, this proposal seems tailor-made to facilitate.
posted by ook at 9:17 AM on March 24, 2018


I understand where you're coming from, but my feeling is that progressive platforms are made up of progressive policies. The way I see it, the "left" (using that term broadly and inclusively) will only pull discourse back in our direction if we argue for the kind of world we want to live in, rather than ceding the framing of reality to the right. The Tea Party (to use a shorthand for a bunch of different far right pressure groups) didn't move American electoral politics to the right by stoically accepting the consensus, they did it by arguing and fighting for the policies they believe in, even where they didn't fit or wouldn't work in the climate of the day. I don't think that we'll make things better by only trying to ameliorate the worst excesses of the current situation. We do have to be pragmatic, and we do have to protect the vulnerable, but we also need an ideology that has an identifiable shape. I don't think we can do that unless it includes aspirational as well as immediate policies.
posted by howfar at 5:06 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Police can (at their discretion) write the ticket for less (e.g., 6-10 over if you were in fact going 11 over) and I think have some ability to dictate just how long you have to pay the ticket (I haven't gotten a ticket in years).

Don't forget the (actual fucking) Get Out of Jail Free cards!
posted by duffell at 5:36 AM on March 25, 2018


I'd grant that a NYTimes op-ed piece isn't the best place for a dissertation, but if you're a writer citing what is perhaps the most extreme opposite to the US wrt proportional fines, that was a shallow treatment that basically ignores huge chunks of reality-based reality. Throwing out pie-in-the-sky ideas is great and feels good for a quick read, but it probably won't do a whole lot to push progressive policies forwards that we are already working on, like raising minimum wage, mandating a minimum standard of health coverage for all, ensuring equal pay for women, reducing or eliminating tuition debt for new students by income, etc. etc. etc. which would have substantive and positive impacts on everyday people's lives, and which are already difficult enough to implement under the current position of "triangulation" held by the left.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:58 PM on March 25, 2018


Tocqueville's first example of American laws contrary to the democratic spirit: the bail system. "What legislation could be more aristocratic than this?"
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


When Bail is more like extortion (NYT)
posted by The Whelk at 8:04 AM on March 31, 2018


The case against Cash Bail (New Yorker)
posted by The Whelk at 10:19 AM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]




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