Assessment, Collection, and Distribution of Fines and Fees in Criminal Cases
Report 19-14, November 2019
- The financial obligations assessed against participants in the court system fall generally into three categories: fees, fines, and restitution. Fees (also known as costs) are amounts authorized by statute that represent what a user of the court system is expected to pay. Fees are usually mandatory. Fines are imposed by the court as part of the judgment and are used to punish offenders. Fines are often discretionary. Restitution is intended to make the victim whole.
- Judges and clerks exercise limited discretion over the assessment and collection of fees in criminal cases. Since many fees are mandatory, the judge has limited ability to waive or reduce amounts owed. One alternative is for the judge to convert a defendant's obligations into community service requirements.
- Courts assessed over $315 million in criminal fines and fees in county Fiscal Year 2017-18; however, collection rates in criminal cases are low. In county Fiscal Year 2017-18, 9.31% of the fines and fees assessed in circuit criminal court were collected statewide. The collection rate for county criminal court is higher, at 39.89%. Collection rates are likely higher in county court because the assessments are lower in misdemeanor cases and defendants are not serving long prison sentences.
- Fines and fees collected in criminal cases are distributed to different funds. Revenues collected in criminal cases go to the clerks, public defenders, state attorneys, the General Revenue Fund, and various state trust funds. The purposes of the state funds are primarily criminal justice related.
- Other states have taken steps to change assessment and collection of fines and fees in criminal cases. These approaches include requiring judges to assess amounts based on the defendant's financial resources and giving judges expanded ability to waive legal financial obligations.
Clerks of Court Generally Are Meeting the System's Collections Performance Standards
Report 07-21 March 2007
Court Fine and Fee Collections Can Increase
Report 04-07 January 2004
fines and fees, judicial assessment of fines and fees, legal financial obligations,