Friday, April 13, 2012

The Saggy Pants Judge claims he let the guy off easy.


In a comment to this post about a man being jailed for three days for wearing saggy pants to court, Mr. Torvik wrote "that perhaps Mr. Ramsey got off easy" because he was jailed for three days but not fined.  Mr. Torvik pointed out that some towns including Albany, Georgia, are fining people who wear pants that sag more than three inches below the top of the hip.  The link in Mr. Torvik's post didn't work for me but I did find this article from the Albany Herald.

According to the Herald, in the first nine months that Albany enforced its saggy pants law, 187 citations were issued and resulted in the city collecting  $3,916.49 in fines.  That is just under $21 a fine.  The figure is a little strange because first-time offenders are supposed to pay $25 and fines on subsequent offenses can go up to $200.  The Albany Police Department averaged more than 20 citations a month and the paper speculates that an additional $1,500 could go to the cities "general fund pot."  For the sake of the citizens of Albany, I hope the "general fund pot" is not literally a pot.

Notably, the Albany ordinance prohibits arrest or imprisonment for violating the saggy pants law.  Although the ordinance does allow for 40 hours of community service to be completed in lieu of fines.  Note that the fine is $25.  I guess the hourly value of community service is $1.60.

In any event, the low fine amount and the prohibition against arrest or imprisonment suggests that the citizens of Albany would disagree with Mr. Torvik's hypothesis that Mr. Ramsey got off easy by getting sentenced to jail for three days.  I certainly disagree with it.  Three days in jail is much more punitive than even the maximum amount of the fine in Albany.

One person who would agree that Mr. Ramsey got off easy is Judge Bush, the man who sentenced Mr. Ramsey, to three days in jail.  According to this USA Today article, Judge Bush told the paper, "People are asking me: 'Is this out of the norm?' And I tell them 'no, that the only thing that's different is that most of the time I give a person five days in jail.'"   The article does not explain the reason Judge Bush gave Mr. Ramsey a downward departure from the normal sentence of five days.

It turns out that Alabama has kind of a thing for saggy pants.  According to CBS News, a bill outlawing wearing saggy pants anywhere in Montgomery County, Alabama passed 59-0.  Interestingly, the bill was sponsored by Alvin Holmes, a Democrat who represents Montgomery in the legislature. 

In a story for the Birmingham News, Representative Holmes described the practice of wearing saggy pants as "nasty and filthy" and vowed to stop it.  Representative Holmes says saggy pants are "disrespectful to our wives, our mothers and people in general."

The bill proposes to fine people $25 to $100 for juveniles and$25 to $150 for adults.  From what I can tell, the Alabama Senate has not yet voted on the bill.  It is not clear to me why Alabama state government is passing criminal statutes that relate solely to one county. 

Finally, in researching what other municipalities might punish people for wearing saggy pants, I came across this post from Ebony Magazine's website.  The post describes efforts by some in Merillville, Indiana to enact a similar ordinance.  According to the article the NAACP and the ACLU oppose the ordinance.  The post suggests that such an ordinance would might run afoul of the First Amendment and "could cause racial profiling."

The Ebony article alludes to a suspicion that I had when I read Mr. Torvik's post--that these ordinances were based onracial discrimination against African-Americans.  However, when I looked at the census data found in the links for each place, Albany, Montgomery County, and Merrillville are minority-majority areas.  That is, there are more non-white people than white people.  So perhaps instead of being a sign of racial discrimination it is more of an anti-youth culture bias.  After all, some might recall that Green Day singer/guitarist Billy Armstrong was kicked off a plane for wearing saggy pants.  Green Day isn't normally viewed as an example of contemporary African-American fashion


  1. My comment was very unclear but I did not intend to imply that I thought a $25 fine is worse than three days in jail. Rather, I was referring to the information at the link I included that, at least at one point, the wearing of baggy pants had been outlawed in Flint, Michigan with potential punishments of up to a year in jail.

  2. My question about the judge in Alabama is -- did he give the guy a chance to pull up his pants? If not — i.e., if he found the guy in contempt without giving a chance to shape up — then his penalty is indefensible. If, however, he told the guy to pull his pants up and he refused, then it really does seem like contempt of court. Based on the news reports, it sounds like it was the former, indefensible situation.


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