Day Fines Systems: Lessons from Global Practice


Virtually no one is imprisoned for non-payment of criminal fines in Sweden.

Many European countries use day fines as an alternative to short-term incarceration. With day fines, fines are proportional to a defendant’s income, allowing for higher fines for wealthy offenders and serious offenses. This report details the scope of day fines in different justice systems, how ability to pay is determined, and the impact on indigent defendants.  Fair Trials used a mix of desk research, survey and interviews of criminal defense attorneys, and public information requests to research the use of day fines in Austria, Hungary, Finland, France, Poland, Spain, Sweden, England, and Wales. Findings suggest it is possible to administer a day fines system without reliance on incarceration for non-payment, but these systems have typically been adopted alongside other reforms aimed at reducing incarceration. The author proposes using day fines in the U.S. to make fine setting fairer.

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • Police in Finland have access to tax records, allowing them to make on-the-spot assessments of the ability to pay during simple traffic stops. 
  • Imprisonment for non-payment is only available following a trial in Finland, and the sentence may range from four to 60 days.
  • Only four percent of people sentenced to a fine ended up in prison for non-payment in Spain.
  • 58 percent of convictions in Sweden are sentenced to day fines, primarily for minor drug offenses, small theft, traffic offenses, and drunk driving. 
  • Austria determines the ability to pay based on personal circumstances and the economic capacity of the defendant. 
  • In France, seizure of property is a more common tool for enforcement for those who fail to pay their fines than incarceration.
  • In 2016, 34 percent of convictions were sentenced to a fine in Poland.
Fair Trials