Nickel and Dimed into Incarceration: Cash-Register Justice in the Criminal System

Professor Appleman argues that the Sixth Amendment jury trial right could provide a new path to fines and fees reform. The fees, fines, and costs imposed by courts are part of a convicted person’s punishment, but they are not decided by a jury. Moreover, defendants who are too poor to pay their fines and fees are frequently subject to additional sanctions by courts, including additional fines, fees, costs, and even incarceration. This, she contends, “violates the Sixth Amendment right to have all punishment decided by a jury.”

The article provides an overview of criminal justice fines and fees; applies the Sixth Amendment jury trial right to these fines and fees; considers the question of “when criminal justice debt rises to the level of punishment; and suggests several solutions to the problem. With respect to solutions, Professor Appleman advocates for robust community involvement in the criminal justice process (i.e. determining punitive financial sanctions), particularly in the evaluation of whether a particular individual can afford them. Potential avenues for increased community involvement include community prosecution, community courts, and community supervision.

You can read the full text of Nickel and Dimed into Incarceration here.

Laura Appleman
Boston College Law Review, Vol. 57, Iss. 5 (2016)