Criminal Fine and Fee System

Legislative Analyst’s Office has released Overview of Criminal Fine and Fee System and Notable Related Actions, which can be found here.

The “handout provides an overview of how criminal fines and fees are assessed, collected, and distributed. It then summarizes recent LAO recommendations for improving the state’s criminal fine and fee system. Finally, it discusses notable actions taken to address declines in criminal fine and fee revenue as well as to reduce impacts of the fines and fees upon people.”

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Evaluate Structure of Criminal Fine and Fee System
    • What Should Be the Goals of the Criminal Fine and Fee System?
      A fine and fee system can service various purposes, such as
      deterring behavior or mitigating the negative effects of crime. Fines
      and fees should be set in a manner to reflect the intended goals.
    • Should Ability to Pay Be Incorporated? There are various ways to
      incorporate ability to pay into the system. One way is to calculate
      fines and fees based on a person’s ability to pay. Another option is
      to levy the same level of fines and fees on all people related to the
      same violation, but implement alternative methods for addressing the
      amount owed (such as through community service).
    • What Should Be the Consequences for Failing to Pay? The
      Legislature will want to consider what consequences people should
      face when they fail to pay their fines and fees. The Legislature could
      also take action to help prevent people from becoming delinquent—
      such as by authorizing programs to offer a discount if people pay the
      amount owed in full.
    • Should Fines and Fees Be Adjusted? The Legislature will want to
      decide whether and how fines and fees are adjusted in the future. For
      example, the levels could be regularly reevaluated or automatically
      adjusted (such as by using a statewide economic indicator).
  • Increase Legislative Control of Criminal Fine and Fee

    • Deposit Most Criminal Fine and Fee Revenue in the General
      Fund. Depositing nearly all fine and fee revenue into the state
      General Fund for subsequent legislative appropriation would increase
      oversight and ensure that funding is provided based on program
      workload and legislative priorities. Programs supported by such
      revenue would also no longer be disproportionately impacted by
      fluctuations in fine and fee revenue.
    • Consolidate Most Fines and Fees. Consolidating most fines and
      fees into a single, statewide charge and removing the ability of trial
      courts and local governments to add charges would eliminate the
      need for the state’s existing complex distribution model and make it
      easier for collection programs to track such revenue.
    • Evaluate Existing Programs Supported by Criminal Fine and
      Fee Revenues. Reviewing each program currently supported by
      criminal fine and fee revenues will help the Legislature to determine
      whether the program is a statewide priority as well as to define its
      expectations on program service levels and the level of funding
      needed to meet those expectations.
    • Mitigate Impacts on Local Governments. The Legislature will want
      to consider how to mitigate the fiscal impact any restructuring of
      fines and fees would have on local governments. We note counties
      often use their share of revenue to meet their required payments to
      the state for the support of trial court operations—currently about
      $660 million annually

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