Massachusetts Senate Bill 2371, which passed in 2018, protects people from being incarcerated for their inability to pay or for nonpayment of fines and fees, prohibits indigent defendants from being charged for counsel, and allows for court-ordered monetary sanctions to be adjusted or waived.
You can read the full text of the bill here.
- A Massachusetts court cannot jail a person solely for nonpayment if the person establishes that they are unable to pay the fine without it causing substantial financial hardship for them, their family, or their dependents. In an ability to pay hearing, the court should consider the person’s employment status, income, financial resources, living expenses, number of dependents and other special circumstances relevant to their ability to pay. The law does not require courts to conduct these hearings – under this legislation, defendants are expected to request an ability to pay hearing.
- When a court is considering incarceration as a sanction for nonpayment of fines and fees, indigent defendants will not be charged a fee for their assigned counsel in that proceeding (i.e. public defender fee).
- Courts cannot incarcerate a person who is under 18 years old for nonpayment.
- An individual held in jail for nonpayment may petition for the court to discharge them on the basis that paying the money owed would cause a substantial financial hardship.
- Courts may waive the monthly probation or administrative probation fee for a person if the court determines after a hearing that payment of these fees would impose a substantial financial hardship. The waiver will only be in effect during the time that a person is unable to pay.
- If the imposition of restitution would cause substantial financial hardship to a person, their family, or their dependents, courts may grant remission or modify the amount, time, or method of payment.