Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Order No. 2017 – 81: Bench cards for ability to pay at sentencing in criminal and civil traffic cases […]

This new court rule approves the use of two bench cards. The first bench card helps judges determine ability to pay at time of sentencing in criminal cases and civil traffic cases. It advises judges about the information that can be considered in determining ability to pay, reminds judges that they may reduce fines by 25-50% depending on the defendant’s income, and encourages judges to set up payment plans and/or allow defendants to perform community service in lieu of paying their fines and fees.

The second bench card helps Arizona judges make a “determination of willfulness,” or judge whether the defendant has made a good faith effort to pay their debt, to ensure that collection of fines and fees is lawful. To determine ability to pay, the bench card instructs judges to examine several factors, including: income, whether the defendant is homeless or incarcerated, basic living expenses, whether the defendant receives public assistance, and whether fines and fees would pose a hardship to the defendant.

After an ability to pay hearing, the bench card suggests an array of alternatives and sanctions for defendants based on whether their failure to pay was willful. If failure to pay was willful, judges can impose community service, wage garnishment, probation revocation, or incarceration. If failure to pay was not willful, judges can reduce or waive debt, modify payment plan conditions, or garnish wages.

These bench cards were adopted to help implement a substantive rule change, Administrative Order 80. The full text of both bench cards can be found here, in the same document as Administrative Order 81.

Arizona Supreme Court, Scott Bales