Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales established Arizona’s Task Force on Fair Justice for All to recommend reforms for the state’s fines and fees procedures. The report consists of 11 principles and 53 corresponding recommendations; below are some particularly notable findings and recommendations.
- “In some cases, such as driving without insurance, the legislature has required a mandatory minimum fine and with surcharges.” Driving without insurance carries a minimum total sanction of $1,040, an unpayable sum for the 40% of Americans who don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency.
- “53% of the defendants (54,400 people) who were initially cited for civil traffic violations and lost their licenses because they failed to appear for the court hearing were subsequently cited for the criminal offense of driving on a suspended license.” Arizona’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to appear floods the state’s criminal justice system with suspended drivers who are most likely just trying to stay employed, wasting the resources of police, prosecutors, and courts.
- Authorize judges to reduce mandatory minimum fines, fees, surcharges, and penalties if the amount would impose an unfair economic hardship.
- Modify court website information, bond cards, reminder letters, FARE (Fines/Fees and Restitution Enforcement) letters, and instructions for online citation payment to explain that if the defendant intends to plead guilty or responsible but cannot afford to pay the full amount of the court sanctions at the time of the hearing, the defendant may request a payment plan.
- Consider increasing access to the court (e.g., offering hours at night, on weekends, or extending regular hours, taking the court to people in remote areas, and allowing remote video and telephonic appearances).
- Authorize courts to impose restrictions on driving—such as “to and from work only”—as an alternative to suspending a driver’s license altogether.