"I lost my license, wasn't able to get it back, started driving around illegally...there's five tickets in one shot. I ended up having to sell my car to the junkyard for $200...I was walking to and from the grocery store, I was walking to and from work up until I didn't have a job...then they slam you with...you gotta pay your fines, you still have to do that."
Kim, impacted individual
A fine is a monetary sanction imposed on an individual for committing a crime. This can include parking and speeding tickets as well as other tickets for minor offenses. A fee is unrelated to punishment — its purpose is to raise money for government services. While fines are punitive and based on a specific offense, fees are unrelated to the crime committed.
In our current system, a simple misdemeanor charge can result in over $500 in total court-imposed fines and fees. Since 85% of criminal defendants in Delaware are indigent, this is an overwhelming financial burden. If payments are missed, the fees and penalties continue to build. Frequently, this leads to a driver’s license suspension for failure to pay. Without a license, many people struggle to find or keep a job, making it even harder to pay the mounting court costs. This system creates a vicious spiral of compounded poverty and often leads to subsequent arrests and jail time.
A 2018 study of over 1,000 criminal defendants in Alabama found that 38.3% committed additional crimes to earn the money to pay off their fines and fees.
A 2019 study by the Brennan Center found that governments in 3 states had to spend $41 to collect every $100 in fines/fees, while the IRS spends only $0.34 to collect every $100 in taxes. Additionally, fines and fees ultimately shrink the state's tax base by making it harder for many to work and overcome poverty.
Defendants can be forced to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees that go purely toward the state’s general revenue fund, as well as funding court costs, court security, public defenders, etc. This revenue can be more efficiently and effectively funded through means other than court-imposed fines and fees. Restitution would be unaffected by the reforms that we have proposed.
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