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Criminal Procedure

H.B. 14-1061, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2014)

Colorado Requires On-the-Record Indigency Proceedings Prior to Incarceration for Failure to Pay Fines

The United States has long viewed debtors’ prisons,1×1. See, e.g., Sarah Dolisca Bellacicco, Note, Safe Haven No Longer: The Role of Georgia Courts and Private Probation Companies in Sustaining a De Facto Debtors’ Prison System, 48 Ga. L. Rev. 227, 234 (2013) (outlining how debtors’ prisons “fell into disfavor” in the mid-1800s). understood as incarceration for failure to repay commercial debts, as contrary to public policy.2×2. See, e.g., Jay Cohen, The History of Imprisonment for Debt and Its Relation to the Development of Discharge in Bankruptcy, 3 J. Legal Hist. 153, 155 (1982) (distinguishing historic debtors’ prisons from penal imprisonment, which is used mainly in criminal proceedings). By contrast, debts stemming from criminal proceedings — such as restitution payments, fines, and court costs — present more complex questions.3×3. For one, the “abolishment” of debtors’ prisons was often confined to the civil context. See, e.g., Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 224, § 6 (2012) (“No person shall be arrested on execution in a civil action . . . .”) (emphasis added); People v. Mendro, 731 P.2d 704, 707 (Colo. 1987) (en banc) (noting that the Colorado Supreme Court has read “civil” into the state constitution’s ban on incarceration for debt, Colo. Const. art. 2, § 12). Moreover, bringing public force to bear seems more appropriate for debts owed to public entities. But when the debtor is genuinely unable to repay, several reasons support the same nonincarceration policy: punishment for poverty seems unfair, deterrence is less effective when indigence is out of the debtor’s control,4×4. Without choice, there is no element that the law can deter. Cf. Yvana L.B.H. Mols, Comment, Bankruptcy Stigma and Vulnerability: Questioning Autonomy and Structuring Resilience, 29 Emory Bankr. Dev. J. 289, 325–28 (2012) (arguing for tailored bankruptcy provisions based on whether the underlying causes of insolvency were in the debtor’s control or not). While the threat of prison cannot deter an indigent debtor from not paying a fine, it may of course deter that individual from committing the underlying crime. smoking out assets is pointless,5×5. See Cohen, supra note 2, at 157. and alternatives to incarceration may meet state goals more cost-effectively.6×6. See, e.g., Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 672 (1983) (“[A] sentencing court can often establish a reduced fine or alternative public service in lieu of a fine that adequately serves the State’s goals of punishment and deterrence . . . .”). An empirical study on this point would be quite enlightening.

Recently, a number of states have been revisiting their ability-to-pay inquiries in the wake of reports accusing them of jailing indigent debtors.7×7. See, e.g., Taylor Gillan, Ohio Supreme Court Warns Judges to End ‘Debtors’ Prisons,’ Jurist (Feb. 7, 2014, 7:14 AM), http://jurist.org/paperchase/2014/02/ohio-supreme-court-warns-judges-to-end-debtors-prisons.php [http://perma.cc/EV5Q-2YV9] (discussing guidance document promulgated by the Supreme Court of Ohio to clarify how the state’s judges should respond to court-ordered debts). A series of on-the-ground investigations and impact litigation cases8×8. For example, in May of 2014, sixteen named plaintiffs filed a class action against the City of Montgomery, Alabama, for jailing indigents for inability to pay debts owed to the city. First Amended Class Action Complaint, Mitchell v. City of Montgomery, No. 2:14-cv-186-MEF (M.D. Ala. May 23, 2014). has set off a wave of concern in both academic9×9. See, e.g., Bellacicco, supra note 1. and popular media10×10. See, e.g., The Colbert Report (Comedy Central television broadcast June 11, 2014), http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/m87g43/the-word—debt-or-prison. circles, decrying the perceived resurrection of the once-interred “debtors’ prison.” On May 9, 2014, Colorado Governor John W. Hickenlooper signed House Bill 14-106111×11. H.B. 14-1061, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2014) (codified at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-702 (2014)). into law, requiring Colorado courts to conduct on-the-record indigency hearings before incarcerating debtors for failing to pay debts owed to the state.12×12. Id. Laudably, the new law will prevent many of the more flagrant errors, but it may not shield less obviously indigent debtors from incarceration, as the substantive definition of indigence for the purposes of criminal debt remains unclear. And without clarification, lower-court discretion will still largely govern incarceration decisions. Still, the law will force indigency determinations onto paper, providing the raw legal material necessary for analysis by reviewing courts or legislators.

H.B. 14-1061 came on the heels of a troubling investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado,13×13. See Letter from Mark Silverstein, Legal Dir., ACLU of Colo., and Rebecca T. Wallace, Staff Att’y, ACLU of Colo., to Chief Justice Michael Bender, Colo. Supreme Court, and Judge John Dailey, Chair, Criminal Procedure Comm. (Oct. 10, 2012), http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2012-10-10-Bender-Dailey-Wallace.pdf [http://perma.cc/PJH6-HHU9] [hereinafter Letter from ACLU to Bender, C.J.]. In October of 2012, the organization sent a letter to Chief Justice Bender of the Colorado Supreme Court, id., and in late 2013 it sent similar letters to three Colorado municipalities, Letter from Rebecca T. Wallace, Staff Att’y, ACLU of Colo., and Mark Silverstein, Legal Dir., ACLU of Colo., to Herb Atchison, Mayor of Westminster (Dec. 16, 2013), http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2013-12-16-Atchison-ACLU.pdf [http://perma.cc/5QH2-N4HF] [hereinafter Letter from ACLU to Atchison]; Letter from Rebecca T. Wallace, Staff Att’y, ACLU of Colo., and Mark Silverstein, Legal Dir., ACLU of Colo., to Joyce Downing, Mayor of Northglenn, and Woon Ki Lau, Northglenn City Prosecutor (Dec. 16, 2013), http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2013-12-16-Downing-ACLU.pdf [http://perma.cc/VY77-PG6N]; Letter from Rebecca T. Wallace, Staff Att’y, ACLU of Colo., and Mark Silverstein, Legal Dir., ACLU of Colo., to Joyce Jay, Mayor of Wheat Ridge (Dec. 16, 2013), http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2013-12-16-Jay-ACLU.pdf [http://perma.cc/K53J-7EFQ] [hereinafter Letter from ACLU to Jay]. following scathing investigations of other states’ practices by civil rights organizations.14×14. See, e.g., ACLU, In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons (2010), https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/InForAPenny_web.pdf [http://perma.cc/4CYJ-LE2X] (detailing a lack of indigency inquiries in Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, and Washington); ACLU, Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons (2014), https://aclu-wa.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Modern%20Day%20Debtor%27s%20Prison%20Final%20%283%29.pdf [http://perma.cc/KQM5-Z8VM]; Alicia Bannon et al., Brennan Center for Justice, Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry (2010), http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/Fees%20and%20Fines%20FINAL.pdf [http://perma.cc/4BQ2-ZTNA] (surveying questionable “criminal justice debt” practices across fifteen states, from New York to California). The ACLU discovered that various Colorado municipalities were jailing defendants for contempt of court for failure to pay fines.15×15. See, e.g., Letter from ACLU to Atchison, supra note 13, at 1–2 (detailing the city’s practice of issuing “Writs of Commitment — Failure to Pay” when defendants missed payments). Under prior Colorado law, courts could jail defendants for failure to pay until a request for a hearing — which, when held, would not have been documented, at least in most municipal courts.16×16. See Letter from ACLU to Bender, C.J., supra note 13, at 3–5; Telephone Interview with Douglas K. Wilson, Colo. State Pub. Defender (Oct. 21, 2014) (notes on file with the Harvard Law School Library). Relying on precedent establishing that the Fourteenth Amendment bars states from revoking probation for failure to repay criminal debt if the defendant makes bona fide efforts to do so, unless no other sanction would serve the states’ purposes,17×17. See Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 672 (1983). The Court emphasized the active role of both the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses. See id. at 665. the ACLU asked Colorado lawmakers to put in place indigency inquiry procedures that would meet minimal constitutional standards.18×18. See, e.g., Letter from ACLU to Atchison, supra note 13, at 2–4 (arguing that the city’s practices are unconstitutional under the U.S. and Colorado constitutions).

The facts the ACLU uncovered were less than flattering. In one case, the defendant, Jared Thornburg, had pleaded guilty to driving a defective vehicle, a nonjailable offense, and owed the court $165 in fines and costs.19×19. Id. at 4. Although a workplace injury and subsequent layoffs had left Mr. Thornburg “penniless and homeless,” he was told he had to pay the debt in full or a warrant would be issued for his arrest.20×20. Id. Just over a week later, fees related to failure to pay had ballooned the debt to $245,21×21. See id. at 4 n.4. and Mr. Thornburg was forced to serve ten days in jail, “without the judge ever having considered whether [his] failure to pay was due to indigence.”22×22. Id. In another case, Linda Roberts, a disabled woman, was arrested for shoplifting $21 worth of food from a grocery store.23×23. Letter from ACLU to Jay, supra note 13, at 4. Her income consisted solely of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and a Social Security disability check.24×24. Id. Ms. Roberts was ordered to pay $746 in court costs, fines, fees, and restitution, or serve fifteen days in jail, again without any meaningful judicial inquiry into her ability to pay.25×25. See id. Ms. Roberts paid down her debt at the rate of $50 per day in jail. Id. Incarceration for nonpayment was not unusual; one county processed 154 such cases over a five-month stretch.26×26. See CO Cities Illegally Jail Poor People for Failure to Pay Fines, ACLU of Colorado, http://aclu-co.org/co-cities-illegally-jail-poor-people-for-failure-to-pay-fines (last visited Nov. 23, 2014) [http://perma.cc/L7Z7-SWFX]. While some of these defendants may have defaulted willingly, it seems unlikely that a significant percentage of them would have voluntarily faced jail time if they had had the money to pay the fines assessed against them. While lack of records precludes full understanding of the previous regime’s problems, these examples show that Colorado courts were imprisoning debtors living only on welfare benefits, far below the federal poverty line — results that seem manifestly wrong.27×27. See sources cited supra notes 4–6.

It was in this context that the Colorado legislature took action, spearheaded by Representative Joseph Salazar and Senate President Pro Tempore Lucía Guzmán.28×28. See S. Journal, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. 885, 893 (Colo. 2014), http://www.leg.state.co.us/Clics/Clics2014A/csl.nsf/Journals?OpenFrameSet (click on “Senate Journal”; then select April 23, 2014). “This is the 21st century,” Salazar said. “[T]here is no way in the world we should tolerate this.”29×29. Tammy Kranz, Salazar Pushes for CORA Standardized Fees, Northglenn Thornton Sentinel (Mar. 26, 2014), http://northglenn-thorntonsentinel.com/stories/Salazar-pushes-for-CORA-standardized-fees,149788 [http://perma.cc/S7AB-QGAN]. The bill cleared every legislative hurdle swimmingly, aided by a strategically timed exclusive in The Denver Post.30×30. Christopher N. Osher, Colorado Cities Jail Poor Who Can’t Pay Fines for Minor Offenses, Denver Post (Dec. 16, 2013, 2:59 PM), http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24726701/colorado-cities-jail-poor-who-cant-pay-fines [http://perma.cc/G42E-XNTV]; see Telephone Interview with Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, Exec. Dir., ACLU of Colo. (Oct. 25, 2014) (notes on file with the Harvard Law School Library). Both the House Committee on Appropriations31×31. House Comm. on Appropriations, House Committee of Reference Report, 69-HB1061_J.001, 2d Sess., at 1 (Colo. 2014), http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2014A/csl.nsf/BillFoldersHouse (select bill range from drop-down menu; click on CR2). and the Senate Committee on Judiciary32×32. Senate Comm. on Judiciary, Senate Committee of Reference Report, 69-HB1061_C.002, 2d Sess., at 1 (Colo. 2014), http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2014A/csl.nsf/BillFoldersHouse (select bill range from drop-down menu; click on CR3). gave favorable recommendations. The bill passed the Colorado House by a vote of 64–033×33. H. Journal, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. 824–25 (Colo. 2014), http://www.leg.state.co.us/Clics/Clics2014A/csl.nsf/Journals?OpenFrameSet (click on “House Journal”; then select April 7, 2014). and the Colorado Senate by a vote of 34–1.34×34. S. Journal, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. 893–94 (Colo. 2014), http://www.leg.state.co.us/Clics/Clics2014A/csl.nsf/Journals?OpenFrameSet (click on “Senate Journal”; then select April 23, 2014). It was signed by the Governor shortly thereafter.35×35. See H.B. 14-1061, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2014) (codified at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-702 (2014)).

The bill made three simple but notable changes to Colorado law. First, it expanded coverage from fines to any “monetary amount” imposed by sentencing,36×36. Id. (amending Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-1.3-702(1)(a) (West 2013)). a subtle but important fix that captures court costs and fees in addition to fines. Second, it required courts to make a determination that the defendant is not indigent prior to incarceration.37×37. See id. (striking out imprisonment requirement from § 18-1.3-702(2) and substituting with language requiring a hearing). Third, it clarified procedural and substantive standards. Courts must provide notice and a hearing and make “findings on the record” that the defendant can pay “without undue hardship to the defendant or the defendant’s dependents” and that “the defendant has not made a good faith effort to comply with the order.”38×38. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-702(3)(c) (emphasis added).

The new Colorado legislation has been warmly received by the ACLU39×39. See Colorado Legislature Approves Ban on Debtors’ Prisons, ACLU of Colo., http://aclu-co.org/colorado-legislature-approves-ban-debtors-prisons (last visited Nov. 23, 2014) [http://perma.cc/QR8N-XMXD]. and the press.40×40. See, e.g., Leslie Jorgensen, Legislature Revokes “Debtors Prison,” Colo. Observer (Apr. 24, 2014), http://thecoloradoobserver.com/2014/04/legislature-revokes-go-to-jail-card-for-people-too-poor-to-pay-fines [http://perma.cc/GQW9-HTSD]. Indeed, it represents a crucial step forward, especially in its mandate for on-the-record hearings. But for those who would see modern-day “debtors’ prisons” dismantled, its protections are likely insufficient to finish the job. For that, state courts and legislatures will ultimately have to clarify the substantive definition of indigence for these purposes. The bill’s “undue hardship” standard remains imprecise, and related law provides little guidance. While it may not fully resolve the issue, H.B. 14-1061 nonetheless sets the ground for the next wave of skirmishes.

To start, forcing reasoning onto the record will likely weed out particularly unsavory results, like those the ACLU highlighted. Transparency, even assuming generous deference from a reviewing court, can indeed be effective in reaching more principled results.41×41. See Stephanos Bibas, Essay, Transparency and Participation in Criminal Procedure, 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 911, 961 (2006) (arguing in the context of the criminal law system that “[h]aving to articulate reasons for decisions, even orally and briefly, would discipline prosecutors” by forcing them to “reckon with outsiders’ perspectives, needs, and desires”). But transparency works best when strong underlying social norms help police the results42×42. Cf. id. (noting that transparency “is more likely to discipline elected insiders,” as they are susceptible to popular critique). — and while public outcry might defend another Ms. Roberts, more ambiguous cases may not receive such strident support. An exclusively procedural solution, then, runs the risk of leaving substantive discretion in the hands of the very judges who drew underinclusive lines to begin with.43×43. See Eric A. Posner & Adrian Vermeule, Inside or Outside the System?, 80 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1743, 1745 (2013) (critiquing as fallacious theories that “offer deeply pessimistic accounts” of the motives of legal actors while subsequently turning to those same actors to effect solutions).

So a substantive definition of indigency seems appropriate, whether supplied by statute or developed through appellate review. Supreme Court precedent evidently sets some lower bound on that definition, but it has not provided much clarity on what that bound is. The foundational case on point, Bearden v. Georgia,44×44. 461 U.S. 660 (1983). requires the court to determine whether a defendant has made “sufficient bona fide efforts to pay,”45×45. Id. at 662. When a defendant has made such efforts, the sentencing court must look into whether “adequate alternative forms of punishment” are available, id., such as restructuring the debt or requiring public service, id. at 672. When no alternatives are adequate, the state may imprison defendants under its traditional mandate to deter and punish criminal behavior. See id. but does not specify what those efforts are, except for a cryptic reference to the relevance of “all reasonable efforts” to “seek employment or borrow money” to repay the debt.46×46. Id. at 668.

To be sure, H.B. 14-1061 says defendants should not be expected to pay if doing so would create “undue hardship” on them or their dependents.47×47. H.B. 14-1061, 69th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2014). While not self-interpreting, “undue hardship” is used elsewhere in Colorado law. Those usages suggest that the payment would have to exceed “properly calculated” obligations and “financial inconvenience,”48×48. In re Marriage of Armit, 878 P.2d 101, 103 (Colo. App. 1994) (defining term in the context of modification of support payments). and that “hardship” is measured only as against the defendant’s “immediate short-term needs.”49×49. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-4.1-112(1) (2014) (defining term in the context of granting emergency awards in criminal restitution cases). Such clarifications are hardly granular enough to warrant enthusiasm.

Nor do analogous areas of Colorado law provide much help. In criminal restitution, for example, the collections investigator must “conduct an investigation into the financial ability of the defendant to pay the restitution ordered by the court.”50×50. Id. § 16-18.5-104(3)(a). But the statute provides no substantive guidance on what “financial ability to pay” actually means. Colorado judicial procedure for the collection of fines, fees, and costs is similarly vague: courts may waive such debts only “after making a finding of financial inability to pay . . . based on a review of a financial affidavit or similar supporting documentation.”51×51. Office of the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Colo., Directive 85-31 (amended Aug. 19, 2011), http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Supreme_Court/Directives/85-31%20Amended%208-19-11.pdf [http://perma.cc/ACV5-AZKG]. As before, the court may employ the services of its collection investigator. Id.

A more detailed indigency determination obtains for waiving costs in civil matters.52×52. See Office of the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Colo., Directive 98-01 (amended Aug. 19, 2011), http://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/98-01.pdf [http://perma.cc/D62H-67D6]. Indeed, the ACLU had suggested importing this test into the criminal context. See Letter from ACLU to Bender, C.J., supra note 13, at 6. There, a judicial directive mandates specific procedures that must be followed for a valid determination of indigency.53×53. Office of the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Colo., Directive 98-01, supra note 52, § II, Attach. A. Since even an indigent defendant can receive a waiver only at the discretion of the judge, see id. § I (citing Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-16-103 (2014)), this test is actually a one-way ratchet, constraining only the more magnanimous impulses of the judiciary. One key benchmark for that determination is whether income falls below 125% of the federal poverty line.54×54. Specifically, an individual or family must have less than $1,500 in liquid assets and and income that fits into one of two category: (a) income falls below 125% of the poverty level as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); or (b) income falls below a slightly higher line (an additional 25%, or about 156% of the HHS poverty level) — but approved expenses for “[]essential items” equal or outstrip income. See id. Attach. A (1)(b)(i)-(ii) (revised Mar. 2014); id. Attach. A tbl. Income Eligibility Guidelines (amended Jan. 2014). Some elements of this definition seem likely to produce fair results: “income” is defined narrowly so as to avoid counting federal welfare dollars.55×55. For example, “income” under the scheme does not include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments, SNAP benefits, subsidized housing, veteran’s benefits, or child support. Id. (1)(a)(iii) n.*. Moreover, the definition of “liquid assets” excludes property, like a vehicle, that cannot “readily be converted into cash without jeopardizing the applicant’s ability to maintain home and employment.” Id. (1)(a)(iii) n.**. And excluded from “expenses” are such “nonessential[s]” as dining out, cable television, alcohol, and cigarettes. Id. (1)(a)(iii) n.***.

Yet a definition of indigency that relies on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formula may be problematic.56×56. See, e.g., Juliet M. Brodie et al., Poverty Law, Policy, and Practice 6 (2014) (“[T]here is general agreement that the poverty measure being used is out-of-date and a recalibration is necessary . . . .”); see also Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance et al., Measuring Poverty: A New Approach xvi (Constance F. Citro & Robert T. Michael eds., 1995) (recommending a “new official poverty measure”). HHS’s annual “poverty guidelines”57×57. HHS publishes its updated numbers in the Federal Register. See, e.g., Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines, 79 Fed. Reg. 3593 (Jan. 22, 2014). are based on the Census Bureau’s “poverty thresholds” and reflect the annual change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.58×58. 42 U.S.C. § 9902(2) (2012); Brodie et al., supra note 56, at 7. This formula is mandated by law. See 42 U.S.C. § 9902(2). But the basic calculation, a formula tracing back to the 1960s,59×59. The formula was initially proposed by statistician and economist Mollie Orshansky in Mollie Orshansky, Children of the Poor, Soc. Security Bull., July 1963, at 3, reprinted in Mollie Orshansky, Soc. Sec. Admin., The Measure of Poverty 5 (1976). See generally Gordon M. Fisher, The Development and History of the Poverty Thresholds, Soc. Security Bull., Winter 1992, at 3. extrapolates total necessary expenditures from the cost of following certain food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture — plans which assume both a well-stocked kitchen and a competent cook.60×60. See Fisher, supra note 59, at 5 (noting that Orshansky had in mind “a hypothetical average (middle-income) family, spending one-third of its income on food”); see also Orshansky, supra note 59, at 8 (“[T]he housewife will be a careful shopper, a skillful cook, and a good manager who will prepare all the family’s meals at home.”). Not only is that method painfully outdated in a world where many individuals struggle to find time to cook at home,61×61. See Share Our Strength, It’s Dinnertime 9 (2012), http://www.nokidhungry.org/images/cm-study/report-full.pdf [http://perma.cc/XD83-XRJY] (noting that 45% of respondents report “making dinner from scratch” more than four times a week). but also it fails to capture regional differences in cost-of-living expenses62×62. See Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance et al., supra note 56, at 8. and the role of adverse events, like medical emergencies.63×63. See id. at 9. Indeed, a number of organizations have proposed alternatives to the HHS measure,64×64. See Brodie et al., supra note 56, at 13–14. Several of the major welfare programs employ some multiple of the guidelines for eligibility purposes. For example, SNAP uses a cutoff of 130% of the HHS poverty guidelines. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Eligibility, USDA, http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligibility (last visited Nov. 23, 2014) [http://perma.cc/Y7P7-7Q6U]. Yet one helpful aspect of a consistent government definition is the ability to track trends over time. See Kathryn Edin & Rebecca Joyce Kissane, Poverty and the American Family: A Decade in Review, 72 J. Marriage & Fam. 460, 462 (2010). including the Census Bureau itself.65×65. The Census Bureau developed the new “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM) in an attempt to produce a more accurate read on poverty. See Kathleen Short, U.S. Census Bureau, The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010 (2011), http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-241.pdf [http://perma.cc/AL9K-BTZW]. The SPM incorporates a number of relevant factors, such as rising health care costs and job expenses, in its analysis of poverty. See id. at 1.

Simply importing the bare HHS thresholds from the welfare-benefit context, then, seems both unfair and out-of-touch, as the metric overlooks the hidden costs of poverty. Moreover, the definition of poverty for indigency and welfare purposes need not be the same. But adopting some clear rule or proxy — such as SNAP eligibility — has clear advantages, saving both time and resources.66×66. As constitutional rights may mean little apart from the resources deployed to secure them, see, e.g., Norman Lefstein, In Search of Gideon’s Promise: Lessons from England and the Need for Federal Help, 55 Hastings L.J. 835, 838 (2004) (“[S]ystems of indigent defense routinely fail to assure fairness because of under-funding and other problems.”), a rule that draws efficiently on court time and resources may actually fare better at securing rights for a class of defendants, even if some individuals are underserved.

Arriving at a workable definition of indigence for these purposes is, of course, a broad and complex task. Colorado’s legislature or its appellate courts will likely have to take another, more detailed look at their substantive definition of indigency. Until they do, the new safeguards may not adequately guarantee the interment of debtors’ prisons in the criminal context. Still, the strength of Colorado’s bill, and the procedural fix it instated, is that it forces courts’ determinations of indigence onto the record. That transparency will undoubtedly help. And, without the bill, it would have been impossible to have the rigorous discussion of the definition of indigence that should — and must — take place.