The Mecklenburg County working group requested the assistance of Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, which helped the group develop two bench cards. One bench card provides guidance for judges when imposing fines and fees; the other outlines a process for sanctioning defendants who fail to pay fines and fees.
This issue brief discusses how fines and fees harm communities and puts forward several strategies that prosecutors can use to mitigate these harms.
Velia Duenas, a homeless, married mother of two children, had her license suspended because she was unable to pay $1088 for three juvenile citations. She continued to drive, received three misdemeanor convictions, and spent 141 days in jail because she was unable to pay the fines.
This case study of municipal courts in Colorado is based on a multi-year ACLU investigation which revealed that despite a bipartisan reform effort in the state legislature, many of Colorado’s municipal courts persistently ignore both constitutional standards and state law and continue to employ practices that punish defendants for their poverty.
Appellant was held in contempt and incarcerated for failure to pay his court fines and fees without any inquiry into his ability to pay. The appellant mentioned that his sibling may be able to pay, but no further inquiry was made by the court. He was sentenced to thirty days imprisonment with credit for time served and a $200 fee to purge the contempt.
In Thompson v. State of Florida, the plaintiff, an indigent mother of three, had her probation revoked for failure to pay fines and fees.
Following litigation by the ACLU, the MacArthur Justice Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center challenging debtor’s prisons in Biloxi, Jackson, and Corinth, the Mississippi Supreme Court made two changes related to fines and fees in its Rules of Criminal Procedure.
This bill aims to improve the fairness of the Texas criminal justice system’s response to defendants’ inability to pay fines and fees in criminal cases, particularly in traffic and city ordinance violations.
Amy Marie Palacios is a single mother with two children, who earned $20,090 in 2016 - below the federal poverty line for her three-person household. Her driver’s license was suspended in 2015 because she failed to pay the fine for a speeding ticket.
Ms. Corder drove to work with a suspended license because her job was her only source of income. She was stopped by law enforcement, received three new citations, and her car was impounded. As a result, she owed $1320 in fines and fees.