Court Fees

Today, I will discuss how the court system is not free and comes with a price. This directly follows up with last week’s post which can be found here.

NPR’s series Guilty and Charged found that states are charging defendants more and more court fees to finance the criminal justice system and other state programs. NPR, with help from the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, conducted a nationwide survey of fees courts are charging to defendants. The survey shows that defendants even have to pay a fee for their public defender. This brings up a major problem because public defenders are supposed to be free and for people who cannot afford to pay for an attorney. This also challenges the fundamental principle of criminal justice that the rich and poor are treated alike. The criminal justice system also charges defendants at every step, from the courtroom, to jail, to probation. These numerous fees can add up to thousands of dollars. If defendants fail to pay these fees, they are sent to jail. People with money can afford these fees and avoid having to serve jail time. However, people who cannot afford these fees receive worse treatment under the court system and go to jail. The defendant’s sentence is supposed to be the punishment for the crime. Charging fees for the privilege to be prosecuted and sentenced for the crime creates a double penalty.

State legislatures set the fees for the criminal justice system. These legislatures do not want to raise taxes so they fund their court systems by charging fees to defendants.

What do you think about this subject? Should state legislatures be able to charge defendants fees in order to fund their courts? Does this cause the criminal justice system to favor the rich over the poor?

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2 thoughts on “Court Fees”

  1. I really enjoyed this post! This subject matter is something I don’t know enough about as it does seem very important, but you did a great job of helping me to become better informed. I don’t think it’s fair for state legislatures to charge defendant fees in order to fund the courts-isn’t there another solution or way? Putting innocent people in jail just because they don’t have money is never the correct solution. Regarding legal situations and positions, any opportunity the wealthier people have should be an option for lower income people as well. If there was a case where someone was innocent and could not pay the defendant fees so they were sent to jail-its their right and privilege to have an attorney. What are the other options-where can we get this money?

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  2. Thanks so much for the comment! You’re right, there are numerous cases in which accused people have been sent to jail because they could not pay their court fees. State legislatures have to find a way to fund courts without requiring defendants to pay large fees because this system favors the rich and punishes the poor. Because most states work on a tight budget already, the only two solutions are to either raise taxes or adjust money distribution within the state. Raising taxes would increase the amount of money states receive every year. They could put this money into their court system and thus not have to charge defendants large fees for using legal services that should be free. Adjusting money distribution within the state involves prioritizing courts over other programs. This means that state legislatures would have to decide on what to put less money into so that they have enough money to fund the courts.

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