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Study: How the High Costs of Fines and Fees Burden Defendants and the Criminal Justice System


In November of 2019, the Brennan Center for Justice published the results of a new study that focused on how the high costs of being arrested unjustly burden the accused—especially middle and lower income defendants. Beyond that, the researchers found that in many jurisdictions, these fines actually burden the criminal justice system as a whole, sometimes causing local jurisdictions to lose money trying to collect. Here, our Miami criminal lawyers explain the key points that were highlighted in the report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

1. Rehabilitation is Thwarted By Excess Fines and Fees

The American criminal justice system is designed to achieve several overlapping goals. One of the most important goals is to rehabilitate offenders. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, rehabilitation is being thwarted by the fact that people are being held in jail because they cannot pay fines and other legal fees. A person who is in jail often cannot hold down a job. It makes it more difficult for them to put their lives back together and achieve stability. 

2. Some Cities and Counties Actually Lose Money When Holding Defendants Who Cannot Pay

One of the most surprising, somewhat counterintuitive findings in the report was that most jurisdictions are making little to no net revenue when collecting fines from defendants. In fact, a number of jurisdictions are currently losing money by holding defendants who cannot pay legal fees and fines in prison. As an example, one county in New Mexico paid $1.17 to hold defendants who cannot pay for every $1.00 it collected in fines. It costs an enormous amount of money to hold a person in custody. The authors raise an important question: Is it sensible for cities and counties to pay tens of thousands of dollars to incarcerate someone who cannot pay a few hundred dollars? 

3. Recommendation: Adjust Fines for Ability to Pay

The Brennan Center for Justice makes several recommendations to help improve the criminal justice system and to create a more fair system that makes communities safer and works better for everyone. Most notably, the researchers suggest that jurisdictions should adjust their fines and fees based on a defendant’s ability to pay. After all, a $500 fee does not mean the same thing to every person.

Call Our Miami Defense Attorneys Today

At Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC, our Miami, FL criminal defense lawyers are strong, committed advocates for the rights and interests of our clients. We believe that every person deserves a fair trial. If you or your family member needs legal representation, please do not hesitate to call us for a free initial consultation. With a law office in Miami, we are well-positioned to serve communities throughout South Florida.




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