On April 20, 2023 the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Office of Justice Programs, and Office for Access to Justice revised the 2016 Dear Colleague to include an updated discussion of case law on the assessment of fines and fees. The letter also cautions against discriminatory enforcement and details the obligations of federal funding recipients.
The letter outlines the following constitutional principles:
- The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of fines and fees that are grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offense.
- The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits incarceration for nonpayment of fines and fees without first conducting an ability-to-pay determination and establishing that the failure to pay is willful.
- The Fourteenth Amendment requires the consideration of alternatives before incarcerating individuals who are unable to pay fines and fees.
- The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the imposition of fines and fees that create conflicts of interest.
- The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits conditioning access to the judicial process on the payment of fees by individuals who are unable to pay.
- The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments require due process protections, such as access to counsel in appropriate cases, as well as notice, when imposing and enforcing fines and fees.
- The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the imposition of fines and fees in a manner that intentionally discriminates against a protected class.
You can read the full text of the letter here.
Read the 2016 Dear Colleague Letter and the advisory on levying juvenile fines and fees here and here.
Author(s): Kristen Clarke, Amy L. Solomon, and Rachel Rossi