Marques Banks

  • Hosted by Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
  • Sponsored by Covington & Burling LLP
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law
  • Issue area Prisoners' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2017
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Marques worked to end modern-day debtors’ prisons in the greater DC area, through direct representation and policy advocacy for individuals subject to overly onerous fines, fees and jail time for minor offenses.

Many state and local governments increasingly rely on excessive fees and fines levied against people entangled in the criminal justice system. Courts often use unconstitutional tactics to collect these fines and fees, including the arrest and jailing of those who cannot afford to pay without providing a hearing to determine ability to pay or offering alternatives to payment. Although bail can only be used to secure a defendant’s appearance, many jurisdictions now use bail as a tool to detain individuals who cannot afford to pay, or to extract high bond fees, in situations where there is no public safety benefit to keeping the person detained. Individuals in the greater Washington, DC area are spending time in jail because they are unable to pay overly onerous fines, fees, and bail. Sending people to jail because they are unable to pay is unconstitutional and has significant collateral consequences, including job loss and threats to housing and family stability.

Fellowship Highlights

During the Fellowship period, Marques has:

  • Developed a legal strategy to attack the incarceration of individuals for failure to pay court fees
  • Researched and analyzed the legal framework for challenges to improper fees and fines
  • Created a court watching program that identifies practices that criminalize low-income individuals
  • Built a partnership with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender to identify and attack practices that criminalize low-income individuals
  • Created a Coalition that led the effort to decriminalize the practice of arresting DC residents who were jailed because they could not afford to pay the metro fare
  • Prepared testimony against the proposed amendment to a drivers license suspension bill to help end the predatory practice of suspending licenses solely because individuals cannot pay their fines

What’s Next

Now that his Fellowship is complete, Marques will continue the work of his project with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. He will also be filing an impact case aimed at addressing the detention of low-income defendants who are unable to pay Electronic Monitoring Fees.

Media

Chief Newsham is wrong. Police oversight is essential.

DC Pro Bono Week 2019: Pro Bono in Protest: Protecting First Amendment Freedoms in the District

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