Policy Statement on the Predatory Collection of Costs, Fines, and Fees in America’s Criminal Courts
The collection of costs, fines, and fees in too many criminal courts across the United States are predatory in nature and an economic failure. These predatory practices impact poor people in catastrophic and life altering ways and are disproportionately levied against people of color.
- Fines are different than court costs and fees and must be separately accounted for and treated differently by courts when attempting to collect money.
- Court costs are a civil debt and only civil debt collection methods may be used to recoup unpaid court costs in criminal cases; and civil debt collection is the only method to collect fines assessed for ordinance violations or infractions that are not criminal violations.
- Non-payment of fees should be treated as a civil debt.
- A court has a constitutional responsibility to find affirmatively that a person has an ability to pay fines before depriving a person of his or her liberty for non-payment.
- The determination of the ability to pay should be the same as needbased assistance in other government programs.
- Contempt of court is not an appropriate method to collect fines, fees or court costs.
- Fines may not be made a condition of probation without regard to a person’s ability to pay.
- Indigent defense fees should not be collected by defense agencies.
- The practice of monetary bond should be eliminated, and never be used as a means to detain or to collect unpaid fines, fees or court costs.
- Ending excessive costs and fines is good public policy, serves the interests of taxpayers, and fairly treats those who come before our courts.