One of the topics that has gained national attention in the last several years has been the issue of court fees, fines, and costs associated with low level criminal offenses as well as civil violations. The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) formed a National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices to address the ongoing impact that these legal financial obligations (LFOs) have on economically disadvantaged communities and to draft model statutes and court rules for setting, collecting, and waiving court-imposed payments.
Over the course of the next several days, I’m going to be looking at how state legislatures are attempting to address the issue. Over 100 pieces of legislation have been filed in over 20 states to examine this topic, and I’ll be looking at them state-by-state.
Overall, there are several themes coming out of statehouses this year
Judges must make determinations of inability vs. unwillingness to pay: Several bills address the unwilling/unable to pay dynamic and require judges to make the determination at time the fee/fine/cost is assessed or to hold a hearing before a determination is made that the failure to pay is willful.
Making automatic presumptions for inability to pay: Several states are considering creating standards that certain individuals, for example those on any sort of means-tested welfare, are automatically assumed unable to pay (vs. unwilling to pay).
Allow judges to waive or reduce fees/fines/costs: Reducing the number, or amount, of mandatory fees/fines/costs to a level that the individual is capable of paying.
Ending use of driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay: the subject of litigation in several states, these bills would end or curtail the automatic suspension of a license for non-payment.
The need for more study: several states have introduced legislation to ask the judiciary or to create legislative study commissions to look at this issue and either report back recommendations (in general) or to review the myriad of existing fees/fines/costs.
I have this in the latest edition of Judicature.
The article asks (and answers) several questions about these commissions:
- Ad hoc or permanent?
- Does the commission examine judiciary compensation only or that of other branches as well?
- Is the compensation change for the judiciary only or for other branches as well?
- Is the commission’s recommendation binding?
- Could the commission recommend a diminishment?
- What should or must the commission look at?
The National Center for State Courts is sponsoring its fourth annual national civics essay contest for elementary, middle, and high school students.
In recognition of Law Day, May 1, 2017, the essay contest focuses on the 14th Amendment, which addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws. NCSC is asking 3rd-12th grade students the following question: What does it mean to be a U.S. citizen?
We encourage teachers to educate students about the 14th Amendment and incorporate NCSC’s essay contest question into their lesson plan(s).
Submissions will be divided into three groups: 3rd-5th graders; 6th-8th graders; and 9th-12th graders. Entries for all grade levels must be 100 words or less and typed and submitted online at www.ncsc.org/contest.
- First place winners will receive a $100 Amazon gift card.
- Second place winners will receive a $50 Amazon gift card.
- Third place winners will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
First- and second-place winners will also receive a class set of NCSC’s graphic novel, Justice Case Files.
All submissions are due February 24, 2017.
Complete contest details and the contest flyer are available at www.ncsc.org/contest.
I have this
Disorder in the courts: The varied ways states establish and oversee courts presents challenges for reform
in the latest edition of Judicature. The article examines not only the constitutional provisions related to courts, but also the specific mechanism legislatures (state and local) use to create them. For example Florida’s County Courts are built right into the constitution in each county, whereas many local courts are broadly authorized by state statute, but a local ordinance sets up the specific court (e.g. Municipal Court of the City of Z).
Information and signup here here.
In recognition of Law Day, May 1, 2017, the National Center for State Courts is sponsoring a contest for elementary, middle school, and high school students. The contest entries will be divided into three groups: 3rd-5th graders, 6th-8th graders and 9th-12th graders.
Each grade group is encouraged to answer the following essay question:
What does it mean to be a U.S. citizen?
Rules for essay contest:
* Entries must be 100 words or less.
* Entries must be typed and submitted in the form below.
- One first place winner in each age group will receive a $100 Amazon gift card and a class set of Justice Case Files graphic novels.
One second place winner in each age group will receive a $50 Amazon gift card and a class set of Justice Case Files graphic novels.
One third place winner in each age group will receive a $25 Amazon gift card and a class set of Justice Case Files graphic novels.
Friday, February 24, 2017.
Voting & Judging
First, second, and third place winners from each grade level will be selected by NCSC staff members and judges from around the country based on creativity, originality, overall quality and adherence to the theme. The winners will be notified by e-mail or phone by April 28, 2017. Winning entries may be shared on NCSC’s social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Vimeo), as well as NCSC publications and websites.
Official Rules & Guidelines
Please be advised that by submitting an essay, parents give NCSC permission to use essays online or in print publications. Read the Official Rules and Guidelines.
I’ll be discussing the 4 ballot items on the ballot that affect the courts here on the blog, but I’ve recorded/published several items that readers might be interested in.
For fans of paper (or at least PDF) I wrote this for NCSC’s new Trends: Close Up publication.
I recorded this item for the newest NCSC video series call Court Buzz.
For those who like podcasts, I also did this podcast for NCSC’s other (relatively) new product/podcast series called Court Talk.
I have this
Up, down, all around: Legislative proposals to change state supreme court compositions gaining popularity.
in the latest edition of Judicature. The article discusses many of the items brought up in earlier blog postings.