People in Tennessee’s criminal justice system can accrue a multitude of fines and fees, but the impact depends on their ability to pay them. This report dives deeper into ability to pay as a potential policy option to address the side-effects of fines, fees, and other legal financial obligations. The authors examine how a person’s ability to pay factors into what they owe, highlighting options for state-level policy change.
You can read the full report here.
- Tennessee state law is inconsistent and ambiguous as to how and when officials should assess a defendant’s ability to pay and waive or modify financial obligations.
- State law permits courts to base the imposition of financial obligations on hardship, indigency, and ability to pay without defining those terms.
- Some ability to pay rules only apply after a person has not paid and is facing legal consequences.
- In practice, judges vary in how they determine ability to pay legal financial obligations, often requiring different kinds of financial information.
- There is no consistent point at which a court reviews a defendants’ ability to pay.
- Collect better data on the practices used to determine a defendant’s ability to pay.
- Require more consistency in when and how courts review and make accommodations for a defendant’s financial situation.
- Consider a sliding-scale system of fines that automatically varies based on a defendant’s financial resources.