Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees

The American Bar Association’s Working Group on Building Public Trust developed ten guidelines to instruct court actors about how to ensure that any fines and fees imposed or collected do not punish people disproportionately for their poverty. This guide can be used by officers of the judicial and legislative branch, advocates, and other individuals working to combat the harmful impacts of court fines and fees in the justice system. The guidelines also include legal support for each guideline. These Guidelines were approved by the American Bar Association House of Delegates on August 6, 2018.

You can read the full text of the ABA fines and fees guidelines here.

American Bar Association’s Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees
  1. Fees imposed by a court must be related to the justice system, services rendered to the defendant, and never be in excess of a person’s ability to pay.
  2. A punitive fine should not result in substantial and undue hardship to a person or their family.
  3. Incarceration or other disproportionate sanctions should not be the result of an individual’s inability to pay a fine, fee, or restitution.
  4. A court must hold an ability-to-pay hearing before it imposes a sanction on a person for nonpayment of fines, fees, or restitution.
  5. A person’s failure to pay court fines and fees should not result in deprivation of their right to vote or other fundamental rights.
  6. Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration and disproportionate sanctions for people who are not able to pay fines and fees.
  7. The standards for evaluating a person’s ability to pay should be clear and consistent and should consider certain factors.
  8. If a person is unable to afford a lawyer, counsel must be provided to them for free.
  9. Finances, demographic data, and other information relevant to the imposition and collection of fines and fees should be made publicly available.
  10. Public and private entities authorized to collect fines, fees, and restitution should adhere to these Guidelines.
American Bar Association Working Group on Building Public Trust