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?