The Problem


Delaware’s system of fines and fees is particularly onerous. Delaware is ranked 47th in the nation, with a score of 8 out of 100, by the National Center for Access to Justice in its2020 Justice Index: Fines and Fees.





"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 gotta pay your fines, you still have to do that."

Kim, impacted individual


What are fines and fees and how are they different?

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.



What is so bad about fines and fees?


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.

Myths about fines and fees:

  • Myth: We need fines and fees to deter people from committing crimes.
  • Fact: Fines and fees can make people more likely to engage in criminal behavior.

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.



  • Myth: We need fines and fees to raise money for vital government services.
  • Fact: Fines and fees are an extremely inefficient way to raise revenue because they target people who can't pay.

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.


  • Myth: Fines and fees are used as restitution for crime victims.
  • Fact: Victim’s restitution is an entirely separate cost, unrelated to fines and fees.

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.

Let's Do Something About It

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