Some legislators in Ohio and other states avoid raising taxes by increasing court-related fines and fees. According to some advocacy groups and concerned lawmakers, such actions are unintentionally punishing indigent offenders who can’t afford such payments. In some instances, poor defendants unable to pay end up in local jails for lengthy stays before having their day in court. Others are placed on probation for long periods until their court debts can be paid.
Several legal groups and nonprofit organizations continue to challenge what they believe are unfair court policies that do more harm than good for indigent offenders. This is in spite of the fact that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1983 declared it unconstitutional to detain individuals unable to pay fines. One group founded in 2016 has litigated twenty-plus lawsuits in an effort to challenge what they refer to as “user-funded justice.”
Also, debtors who can’t meet their obligations are sometimes forced to pay for their incarceration, which ends up increasing their debt even more. Collection agencies may further compound the problem by adding additional fees to a debtor’s balance. One state justice who believes fees, fines, and bail requirements should be reformed points out that some individuals unable to pay fines or make bail ultimately pay additional prices by losing the jobs, families, and children. A nationwide task force of state court administrators and chief justices further contends that courts should be government-funded and not used to raise revenue.
When an individual is faced with the possibility of high court-related costs or fines, a criminal defense attorney may attempt to have charges reduced or dismissed in order to keep a client’s expenses related to their legal matter reasonable. With other situations, a criminal defense lawyer might recommend filing an appeal as part of efforts to have unfair or excessive fines and fees reduced or dismissed.