Nevada uses license suspensions and arrest warrants as debt-collection tactics — targeted at people living in poverty.
How debt-based license suspensions harm Nevadans
Between July 2017 and June 2019, over 38,000 Nevadans had their driver’s licenses suspended because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Without a license, many Nevadans lose the ability to work, care for their children and access basic needs.
In addition to losing the freedom to drive, Nevadans who can’t pay fines and fees face being reported to credit agencies, lien/civil judgments, “attachment or garnishment of property, wages or other money,” and incarceration. Courts can also issue arrest warrants for all unpaid traffic tickets, and then charge an additional warrant fees and late fees. Learn more.
In 2021, Assemblywoman Cecilia González introduced AB 151 — legislation aimed at curbing debt-based license suspensions. Read more.
How traffic warrants criminalize poverty in Nevada
Nevada is one of only 13 U.S. states that prosecute minor traffic violations as criminal offenses, rather than as civil infractions. People who are unable to pay traffic fines for minor violations such as speeding or driving with a broken tail light can be arrested and even incarcerated. This costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year — and it costs hard-working Nevadans their livelihoods.
In 2021, Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen introduced AB 116— legislation that would decriminalize minor traffic violations, making them civil infractions and ending the practice of issuing warrants when an individual can’t afford to pay the fines, fees and assessments imposed. Read more.
Nevada is dangerously reliant on fines and fees.
Across Nevada, courts use the money they collect from administrative fees and surcharges to fund the justice system and other government services. These administrative fees are added on top of the cost of fines. In Nevada, a fine of $5 can come with a minimum fee of $30, making the lowest fine $35. In 2014, Nevada’s Supreme Court received more than half of its funding from fees. In 2016, the average administrative assessment (“fee”) was $57.
What happens when courts become revenue generators?
Relying on predatory fines and fees to fund public institutions creates perverse incentives at every touch point in the justice system. It redirects the courts and law enforcement officials to focus on raising revenue rather than ensuring justice, equity and public safety.
“The policy subconsciously hopes for more crime. A good year in raising admin assessment fees is a year when the crime rate goes up; a bad year is when the crime rate goes down. Success in raising administrative assessment fees depends in large part on our failure to prevent crime.” — Stephen Dahl, Nevada Judges Association President.
The punishment for not paying your fines and fees (even for minor infractions) can be devastating. If you’re not able to pay your fines and fees, courts can impose an additional collection fee of $100, $500, or 10% of the amount owed. Collection agencies can then impose a collection fee on top of that of up to 35% of the debt owed.
Victories for fines and fees reforms
PASSED — AB 434 (2019)
Makes several changes regarding collection of fines, fees, and restitution. Previously, the law allowed courts to enter a civil judgment; garnish property or wages; suspend driver’s licenses; and incarcerate defendants for nonpayment. Read more.
PASSED — AB 416 (2019)
Clarifies that community service credits can be applied toward outstanding fines and fees, and provides that community service hours will be credited against debt at a rate of $10 per hour or the state’s minimum wage, whichever is higher. Nevada’s minimum wage is set to increase to $12 per hour by 2024. The bill also provides that any fine or fee not collected within 8 years is deemed “uncollectible.” Read more.
PASSED — AB110 (2019)
Makes changes to the notification process for traffic tickets and related court dates. Read more.
Help us create a fair justice system for everyone.
The Fines and Fees Justice Center’s (FFJC) Nevada state campaign is the state’s first sustained effort to reform harmful fines and fees. FFJC Nevada is building broad-based coalitions from across the political spectrum including people who have experienced the criminal justice system, grassroots organizations, judges, public defenders, prosecutors, legislators, law enforcement, and faith-based and advocacy organizations.
Do you or your organization want to join thousands of Nevadans in the fight for a fair justice system? Contact Nevada State Director, Leisa Moseley, at firstname.lastname@example.org.