Death in a Debtor’s Prison Cell

He died in a Box Elder County, Utah jail cell shortly after being taken into custody, but Rex Iverson, 45, wasn’t there for a criminal act. He was there on a civil judgment — not paying an ambulance bill.

On Christmas Eve 2013, Iverson had to be taken to the hospital via ambulance. Unfortunately, because he was unemployed he couldn’t pay and in September 2014 a justice court small claims judgment against Iverson said had to pay the $2,376.92 bill.

When he couldn’t pay, he was arrested and jailed. The next day he was found dead in a holding cell.

At 1:10 pm, January 22, 2016, a deputy spoke with Iverson to find out if he would be able to post bail on the offense. When the deputy returned half an hour later to begin the booking process, Iverson was found unresponsive in the cell.

Iverson’s death is under investigation by the Northern Utah Critical Incident Investigative Team. So far foul play is not suspected.

Imprisoning someone because he or she cannot afford to pay a court-imposed fine or fee violates the Fourteenth Amendment of due process and equal protection under the law.

Section 1 reads in part:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And because Iverson and other people like him are unemployed or don’t have the money to hire an attorney, and since “justice court” isn’t considered a “criminal court,” defendants are often left to the ‘mercy’ of the system and with our proper legal representation. This is clearly a violation of the Sixth amendment, which clearly states:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Like the late musician Frank Zappa asked in a 1991 Spin Magazine interview, “If you don’t know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them?”

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