Targeted Fines and Fees Against Low-Income Communities of Color: Civil Rights and Constitutional Implications

The excessive imposition of fines and fees can damage judicial credibility and the relationships between law enforcement and residents. In the effort to raise revenue through fines and fees, municipalities in effect discount concerns about the judicial system’s role in our “country’s commitment to the principles of fundamental fairness and to ensuring that the scales of our legal system measure justice, not wealth.’” Chief among these concerns are the harms to due process and judicial ethics issues that arise when states depend too heavily on court fees, potentially conflicting with judicial independence, and diverting attention from courts’ essential functions. Additionally, some state legislatures throughout the country are not properly funding local courts, which leaves local courts to bring in revenue to support their operating budgets, undermining the public’s faith in the justice system. The reliance on revenue from fines and fees distorts incentives and can lead to the misallocation of public safety resources. The recent increase in using private companies to collect fines and fees further exacerbates these issues.

www.usccr.gov/pubs/docs/Statutory_Enforcement_Report2017.pdf

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