ATLANTA – The ACLU of Georgia filed a motion on behalf of Charles “Skip” Eckartz, a 63-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, to waive the nearly $9,000 in fines and fees of his probation. Mr. Eckartz and his wife survive on a fixed monthly income of $966, which comes from Social Security and VA disability benefits. His financial position makes it impossible for him to pay his probation fees and fines. Georgia has the highest probation rate in the nation, and probation violations send people back to prison at an alarming rate.
On August 19, 2016, the police raided the Eckartz home, found marijuana, arrested him and his wife — a homemaker — on charges of manufacturing marijuana, and put them in jail for five days. Mr. Eckartz had no criminal record, so he pleaded guilty as a First Offender. Charges against Ms. Eckartz were dropped. While serving in the Air Force in Vietnam, Mr. Eckartz suffered a broken back and thigh from jumping out of a helicopter. Although cannabis oil, which is legal in the state of Georgia, is an effective treatment for his injuries, it remains legally unavailable.
After the arrest, the couple were no longer able to afford to remain in their home in Elbert County and moved in with their daughter in Florida where medical marijuana is legal and available. However, the conditions of Mr. Eckartz’ probation prohibit him from having in his possession or being in the presence of controlled substances including those that his doctor prescribes for pain from military-related injuries.
The motion asks for two modifications to Mr. Eckartz’ conditions of probation. First, the motion asks the court to waive all fines, fees, and court costs of his probation because of his financial position. By law, the judge must modify, waive, or convert probation fines and fees depending upon an individual’s financial circumstances.
Second, the motion asks the court to permit Mr. Eckartz to obtain legally available medical treatment options that his doctor prescribes where he lives in Florida, including THC oil and medical marijuana which are legal in that state.
“Like thousands of other people on probation, Mr. Eckartz lives with the constant threat that if he misses probation payments, he could be thrown into prison,” stated Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Rather than locking up people based on the amount of money in their pockets, Georgia should end mass incarceration and help returning citizens find redemption and reintegration into our communities.”