We are developing open-source messaging, media and communications tools which we plan to share widely. In the meantime, this page will house our existing recommendations around criminal justice fines and fees.
American Bar Association Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees
The American Bar Association (ABA)'s House of Delegates unanimously adopted Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees, a series of unequivocal principles designed to address the imposition and enforcement of fines and fees in the justice system. The Guidelines were adopted to ensure that no one is subject to sanctions, including incarceration, simply because they do not have the money to pay, and to eliminate the financial incentives in the criminal justice system to impose fines and fees. The Guidelines were proposed and written by a Working Group on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System convened by outgoing ABA President Hilarie Bass. Both Fines & Fees Justice Center Co-Directors, Joanna Weiss and Lisa Foster, were members of the Working Group.
You can read the full text of the guidelines at the following link.
United States Department of Justice “Dear Colleague” Letter
Authors: Lisa Foster, Vanita Gupta
In March 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Office for Access to Justice sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to State Court Administrators and Chief Justices in each state clarifying the legal framework that governs the enforcement of fines and fees, including the importance of procedural protections and, in appropriate cases, the right to counsel.
In December 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially revoked the “Dear Colleague” Letter. Despite his action, several state Supreme Court justices have reaffirmed the validity of the Department’s original legal analysis.
The letter explains seven key principles:
- In order to incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fines or fees, courts must first determine whether that individual has the ability to pay and establish that failure to pay was willful;
- Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for defendants who are unable to pay fines and fees;
- Courts must not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fines or fees;
- Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel, when enforcing fines and fees;
- Courts must not use arrest warrants or license suspensions as a means of coercing the payment of court debt when individuals have not been afforded constitutionally adequate procedural protections;
- Courts must not employ bail or bond practices that cause defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release; and
- Courts must safeguard against unconstitutional practices by court staff and private contractors.
In December 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the letter.
You can read the full text of the "Dear Colleague" letter by following this link.
Advisory for Recipients of Financial Assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice on Levying Fines and Fees on Juveniles
Authors: Lisa Foster, Karol Mason
In January 2017, The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Office for Access to Justice issued a formal advisory to recipients of DOJ funds about the enforcement of fines and fees in juvenile courts.
The advisory puts forward five primary recommendations:
- Juvenile justice agencies should presume that young people are unable to pay fines and fees and only impose them after an affirmative showing of ability to pay.
- Before juvenile justice agencies punish youth for failing to pay fines and fees, they must first determine ability to pay, considering factors particularly applicable to youth.
- Juvenile justice agencies should not condition entry into a diversion program or another
alternative to adjudication on the payment of a fee if the youth or the youth's family is unable to pay the fee.
- Juvenile justice agencies should collect data on race, national origin, sex, and disability to determine whether the imposition of fines and fees has an unlawful disparate impact on juveniles or their families.
- Juvenile justice agencies should consider whether the imposition or enforcement of fines and fees in any particular case comports with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system.
In December 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Advisory.
You can read the full text of the Advisory by following this link.