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We like to poke a little fun at people who try to pay fines in pennies. But a misguided protest that doesn't punish any of the people responsible for the fine itself shouldn't open the door for civil rights violations. And bringing $10 in pennies to pay a ticket doesn't give court officers the right to grabbed you from behind, choke you and throw to the ground so hard you defecate yourself.
But that's what one Michigan man alleges happened when he tried to pay a parking ticket in pennies in Royal Oak.
According to his lawsuit, Anthony Sevy went to the 44th District Court to pay a $10 parking ticket. Annoyed he would be charged a $1.75 processing fee, Sevy decided to pay the fine in change, which he was told would be acceptable as long as they were rolled.
But when Sevy returned to the court later with 1,000 rolled pennies, the clerk refused to accept them and Court Officers Philip Barach and Harold Marshall ordered him to leave. Video of the incident shows Sevy attempting to leave the courthouse, as Barach and Marshall follow him. One of the officers grabs Sevy and chokes him until he passes out and defecates on himself, after which he was arrested and detained in a holding cell for more than 24 hours.
Sevy claims he suffered head trauma, mental anguish, denial of social pleasures, and embarrassment, and incurred significant medical bills from the incident. He is suing for "an amount that is just and fair and award costs, interest and attorney fees as well as punitive, exemplary or hedonic damages."
"Just because there is a verbal exchange doesn't give an officer a right to brutalize you," Sevy's attorney, Jonathan Marko, told the Detroit News. "The whole basis of freedom of speech is people have a right to say things that you might not like."
Marko is right, but do you have a right to pay a fine in a manner the court may not like? Not necessarily. Sure, pennies are legal tender, but, there are no federal statutes mandating that public entities or private businesses or persons must accept currency or coins as for payment.
So while some states, counties, or cities might be nicer and accept your rolled pennies as payment, maybe consider who's actually responsible for your fine (legislators and law enforcement) and who'll you'll be inconveniencing with your penny political protest (yourself and whatever nice person has been hired to count them).
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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