The Growing and Broad Nature of Legal Financial Obligations: Evidence from Court Records in Alabama


Alabama’s courts are funded almost entirely by those who “use” the court system.

This report provides granular data on the imposition and payment of fines and fees in Alabama. The authors gathered and analyzed 200,000 court records over the last two decades to provide a comprehensive picture of the assessments of fines and fees across the state.

The authors found that median fines and fees attached to a case with a felony conviction almost doubled between 1995 and 2005. But the authors underscore that only a minority of fines and fees are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most fines and fees are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence of incarceration, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, and even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all.

You can read the full article here. 

Key Findings
  • Between 1995 and 2013, Alabama’s Unified Judicial System expenditures doubled from $95 million to $180 million. But between 2008 and 2013, the Alabama legislature’s appropriation decreased from $68 million to $3 million annually. As a result, Alabama’s courts are funded almost entirely by those who “use” the court system.
  • The median amount of fines and fees stemming from a felony conviction doubled in Alabama from just under $1,000 in 1995 to about $2,000 in 2005. For comparison, the average annual income of the formerly incarcerated population was $9,000 in 2004.
  • In the City of Montgomery, more fines and fees were assessed in traffic violations than criminal assessments: traffic violations resulted in eight times more debt than misdemeanors did.
  • The total quantity of fines and fees assessed for each offense varies greatly by jurisdiction. For instance, the median assessment for possession of a controlled substance is $1,345 in Calhoun County and $460 in DeKalb County.
Claire Greenberg, Marc Meredith, Michael Morse
Connecticut Law Review, Volume 48, Number 4