Photo of Bobby Hunter

Bobby Hunter

  • Hosted by American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program
  • Sponsored by Ropes & Gray LLP
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Bobby implemented replicable state campaigns to reform court debt collection practices through strategic litigation and community partnerships, to ensure that nobody loses their liberty because they are poor.

Over 10 million people nationwide have debt from fines and fees imposed in court cases, owing over $50 billion. Most criminal defendants are indigent and cannot meet these obligations, which can lead to lower credit scores, suspended driver’s licenses, job loss, disenfranchisement, and jail. While the U.S. Constitution requires that courts assess ability to pay before incarcerating a person for nonpayment of court debt, many local courts regularly jail debtors without a hearing or notice of the right to counsel–ignoring their financial circumstances and constitutional rights. Debt from a single case can trigger a cycle of license suspension, job loss, debt, and jail, with far-reaching effects beyond the life of a criminal case.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship period, Bobby:

  • Supported litigation against debtors’ prisons practices in Lexington County, South Carolina at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and secured a victory that allows the case to proceed to discovery and gives the plaintiffs an opportunity to prove their allegations against defendant magistrate judges 
  • Led a team that helped host community outreach presentations in South Carolina, providing education to the general public and direct services providers on issues such as driver’s license suspension based on inability to pay traffic fines and fees
  • Filed a lawsuit challenging the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles’ practice of automatically and indefinitely suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets without considering drivers’ ability to pay
  • Helped advocate for medically vulnerable people facing a high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 due to conditions of detention—many of whom are detained pretrial solely because they cannot afford to pay bail

Next Steps

In the fall 2020, Bobby began a federal clerkship. 

Meet Other Fellows Like Bobby

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Host: Youth Represent

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Megan Sheffield

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Sponsor: Anonymous

Cassandra Capobianco

Host: Florida Institutional Legal Services, Inc.

Sponsor: Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities, Inc., The Florida Bar Foundation

Monica Saxena

Host: The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Sponsor: Anonymous