NEW YORK – JANUARY 28, 2019 – The Fines and Fees Justice Center, the Cato Institute, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the R Street Institute filed an amicus brief on Friday, urging the Supreme Court of the United States to grant a petition for writ of certiorari in Lovelace v. Illinois, a case challenging bail bond fees. Curtis Lovelace, the petitioner, was indigent, wrongfully prosecuted, and ultimately acquitted. He was still charged a $35,000 bond fee for exercising his right to pretrial release through Illinois’ bail system.
In its brief, filed January 25, 2019, amici argue that “bond fees perpetuate perverse incentives that give rise to constitutional violations,” and that certiorari should be granted “to establish a uniform framework through which lower courts can evaluate the constitutionality of bond fees like those imposed by Illinois.”
Illinois law permits judges to levy a fee of up to 10% of the amount of a bail bond even if the defendant makes every court appearance and even if the defendant is ultimately acquitted. In Lovelace, the trial judge candidly admitted that the fees were necessary to fund the court and that in his almost 30 years as a judge, he had never seen a bond fee of less than 10% imposed.
Nearly half of all American states and countless local jurisdictions impose bond fees, which are particularly concerning because they can create incentives to set bail in circumstances where bail may be unwarranted. And where they are used to fund courts, they create a conflict-of-interest for judges, who may be tempted to set higher bail or refuse to waive or reduce the bond fee in order to finance their court.
“The fee imposed on Mr. Lovelace is unconstitutional,” said Joanna Weiss, Co-Director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “It’s excessive, and it was imposed by a judge who, by his own admission, felt compelled to assess the maximum fee in order to fund the court.”
The brief explains that bail fees are merely one fee among countless others that burden indigent and low-income people. State and local governments today assess fees, costs and surcharges at virtually every stage of traffic, misdemeanor and felony cases. They can total hundreds or, as in this case, even thousands of dollars.
“The Supreme Court has the opportunity to say clearly that fees, fines, and forfeitures cannot be excessive or otherwise abusive,” said Emily Early of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This is important because across the country we are seeing state and local governments charging higher and higher fines and fees, which disproportionately punish low-income and indigent individuals, particularly in communities of color. These practices need to stop.”
The friend-of-the-court brief was written by Seanna Brown, Maximillian Shifrin and Darcy Maw of Baker & Hostetler, LLP who represented the organizations pro bono.
Joanna Weiss, Co-Director
Lisa Foster, Co-Director
About the Fines and Fees Justice Center
The Fines & Fees Justice Center (FFJC) seeks to catalyze a movement to eliminate the fines and fees that distort justice. As a national center for advocacy, information, and collaboration, FFJC’s goal is to eliminate fees in the justice system and to ensure that fines are equitably imposed and enforced. FFJC works collaboratively with affected communities and justice system stakeholders to end abusive collection practices and eliminate the justice tax. Read more about FFJC here.