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.
This article is another example that discusses fees used as criminal punishments. Not to long ago it was perfectly fine for Courts to use monetary fees as part of vehicle and traffic violations and low-level criminal sentencing. Fines were an option instead of jail/prison time. Fines were a acceptable form of punishment. Then in 2015 because of the Ferguson incident and DOJ investigation it was reported that court fees were a mechanism to supplement the City budget. This translated to a debtors prison and now the use of fines by courts are being criticized.
Nationwide, research over the last decade has documented how skyrocketing court fines and fees cause harm to those least able to pay them, and make future justice involvement more likely.
In the most recent study, Idaho was singled out as relying almost entirely on penalties and fines to fund its judicial system, even as the state confronts more than $195 million in uncollected court debt.
The study, published by the Idaho Law Review, exposed what its authors call an unhealthy conflict between using fines and fees as both a source of revenue and punishment, and said they imposed an inequitable burden on the rural poor and communities of color.
“For people caught up in the criminal system, fees simply operate as another layer of punishment on top of fines,” the study said. “Enforcing monetary sanctions with the threat of additional fines, fees, and jail time merely recriminalizes financially precarious people, without any legitimate policy goal or discernible benefit to the state.
Court Fees Called ‘Another Layer of Punishment’ for Rural Poor
The fines, fees, costs, or other financial obligations are staggeringly high. On a weekly basis, in criminal cases, I order people who make $9/hour to pay over $250 in court costs alone. That is without restitution, without a fine, without a civil penalty, without restitution [for] the victim, without public defender reimbursement, without the costs of probation supervision, with the pre-sentence investigation fee, etc. There is no way to get blood from a turnip. The greatest single challenge is the blood from a turnip problem. Often, the cost for collections [is more] than the order to pay. …Right now, the costs just defeat the person from the very beginning.–Anonymous Idaho Judge (2019)1
On October 28, 2019, Peace Officer Kyle Rawlins cited Roxana Beck for a parking violation in Mountain Home, Idaho.2After further questioning and investigation, Officer Rawlins arrested Ms. Beck for alleged possession of drug paraphernalia and transported her to the Elmore County Detention Center where she was booked into jail.3 At the time of her arrest, Ms. Beck was employed part-time at Burger King earning $12an hour, so the Elmore County Court determined that she was indigent and appointed a public defender to represent her.4