Woman Sent To Jail For Failing To Mow Lawn

If you’ve ever looked a lawn that needed trimming and said to yourself, “I’ll get around to it. What are they gonna do, arrest me?” this story of a woman in Tennessee might have you dusting off the mower and hedge clippers.

WVLT-TV in Knoxville reports on a local woman who was told she had to spend a five-day term behind bars for failing to keep up with her yard work.

She initially received a citation from the city during the summer because her property required some grooming.

“With my husband going to school and working full time, me with my job, with one vehicle, we were trying our best,” she explains. “[The bushes and trees] were overgrown. But that’s certainly not a criminal offense.”

But following a second citation and a recent court hearing, the mother of two was looking at five days in the clink.

The woman says she was steamrolled by the process; that she was never told of her legal rights or that she could have a lawyer represent her at court.

“It’s not right,” she claims. “Why would you put me in jail with child molesters, and people who’ve done real crimes, because I haven’t maintained my yard.”

Earlier this week, the judge acknowledged that this was not a criminal case and reduced the sentence to only six hours of jail time. She offered to do five days of community service instead, but the judge insisted on some time behind bars.

She served her time on Tuesday evening, but the judge could give her additional jail time if he’s not happy with her lawn-maintenance efforts when they review her progress at a November check-in hearing.

For comparison’s sake, semi-celebrity Nicole Richie only spent 82 minutes in jail for an incident in which she drove the wrong way on a highway while admittedly being under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and Vicodin.

[Thanks to Steve for the tip!]

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  1. pguyton2 says:

    the should have just paid someone to take care of it and sent her the bill (over priced due to no negotiation) and maybe some sort of fine

    • theoriginalcatastrophegirl says:

      that’s what has been done to me before. the city paid someone to cut down a privet shrub i was growing, mowed my lawn and fined me $600.

      • furiousd says:

        I could understand if it was a hazard (trees/bushes/etc. obstructing the sight line of a public road) to others, or if she lived in an area where she agreed to abide by a specific lawn care policy, or if the unkempt lawn encouraged snakes or mice that became a problem for neighbors, but I’m of the mindset that one’s personal property is theirs. I think the 6-hour timeout is preposterous and if the law supports any government telling you what you can and can’t do to landscape, or not, and how to maintain it, I’m in favor of it being changed.

        I’ve had neighbors complain about my lawn as well and threaten to call the county. My lawn got up to 6″ high with some crabgrass contracted from my neighbors springing up taller stalks. I’m in the midst of my doctoral program at… UT Knoxville… and don’t have much time even on the weekends to make my lawn look pretty like the retiree who lived there before me, and when my mower died I ran short of options because I can’t currently afford to repair or replace it. Every few months I have enough time to use my weedeater to take care of the 1/3 acre and I consider it fine. I’ll not win any awards, but it’s kept a reasonable height. I chose a home in an area without an HOA, outside city limits to avoid as much unnecessary oversight as possible.

        • theoriginalcatastrophegirl says:

          in 2009 i bought a house in unincorporated county, half acre minimum lots, no HOA. in 2010 the city decided to add my neighborhood as “extraterritorital jurisdiction” and started enforcing city lawn laws. they actually came out and stuck a ruler in my lawn to see if it was 8 or more inches tall. my neighbor and i have an ongoing hostility because i won’t pay him to mow my lawn so he likes to call it in when he’s annoyed with me.
          it’s taken a lot of experimenting to find out what kills my centipede grass but i finally found something called pasture clear that horse owners use. there are a couple of gallons and a pickup full of pine needles waiting for a dry day.
          but i live in an area that didn’t have a specific lawn care policy when i bought it, and the law changed to apply to me later. i don’t agree with that at all, especially since i don’t live in the city, i wasn’t actually allowed to have a say in the changing of city laws to suddenly apply to me, and there was no notification.
          not that i think this woman was in that situation, but unfortunately, i can commiserate with her challenge

  2. mrkake says:

    what the hell? I would counter-sue the city for defamation of character, unlawful arrest, harassment, etc… and bring it as far up to the supreme court as possible. i would hire the best lawyer and demand the city pay the legal fees. and i would never mow my lawn again. how can they even consider arresting you for that??????? sounds to me like the judge needs to be disbarred and the police need to be fired.

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      Ha ha, that’s a good one, mrkake!

      Oh, wait, you’re serious?

      So, you think a judge should be disbarred for upholding the law, and police should be fired for enforcing the law? Civil citations can lead to arrest almost anywhere if you ignore them, and while the punishment seems a bit harsh, it also seems that she’s had a history of ignoring city or county laws (“code” usually means “local laws” in most areas).

      But if you plan to challenge something like this, by all means, more power to you. I’ll be there. (With popcorn and a lawn chair.)

    • CzarChasm says:

      Internet lawyers make me laugh. “I know some words, and watch TV. That’s totally the same as going to law school.”

  3. webalias says:

    I thought there had to be more to this story than reported here, and there is. So some poor woman, a mom no less, is thrown in the slammer because she fell behind on her lawn mowing. How can a judge be so cruel!

    Here, according to a followup report by the same Knoxville TV station, is what this account doesn’t say:

    Her house had been unkempt and in disrepair for nearly 12 years. She had been given numerous citations and warnings from multiple code enforcement officers over those 12 years. Finally, after all those repeated violations and multiple letters she apparently ignored, the woman was arrested and spent a total of six hours in jail. This was something the city says it had never done before — most likely, no one in her town had ever disregarded so many citations for more than a decade, before.

    I don’t blame the judge in this case. It’s also worth noting that when she finally had to face the music, she was not put in with child molesters and other criminals. She was, by her own account, treated pretty well. “They gave me dinner, I went to my little holding cell. They didn’t put me with the general population. I was fortunate I got to wear my own clothes, so I didn’t have to change into their prison uniform,” she told WVLT-TV.

    It’s too bad she ended up behind bars for a few hours, and perhaps the judge could have considered other options. But the fault is hers. If you disregard your legal responsibilities for years — whether it’s housing code violations or unpaid parking tickets — eventually there will be a day of reckoning.

    • MarkyMark says:

      Thanks for the additional information. Have a link? Consumerist should link to it so it doesn’t so harsh as it’s currently written.

    • CzarChasm says:

      As ridiculous as it sounds at first, this is how these things generally play out. Sometimes people are of the opinion that “it’s my land I can do what I want”. That’s simply not true in most cases, most places have some sort of health and habitability laws, and have fines to enforce them, but when people don’t pay the fines, there is little left that the court can do.

      Hopefully this wakes her up to her responsibilities and she starts taking care of the place, but if I had to guess, this will not be her last visit to jail over this.

  4. Terryc says:

    My lawn really bugs my retired neighbors also. I would love to have the perfect lawns they do but. I do have it mowed bi-weekly. But most of it is dead. After having several people look at the problem I have meal worms? anyway it won’t be fixed any time soon. Limited income, disabled spouse, child moved back in with her two kids. If we could fix it we would but just cant afford it for 2 years running now.