Fines & Fees Committee

The collection of costs, fines, and fees in too many criminal courts across the United States are predatory in nature and an economic failure. These predatory practices impact poor people in catastrophic and life altering ways and are disproportionately levied against people of color. NAPD is committed to adressing these practices as a core ethical and professional obligation guaranteed by the right to counsel.
In the criminal justice system, significant fines, fees and court costs are levied upon poor people to fund criminal justice costs, and in some instances a significant part of municipal budgets. Privatization of the criminal justice system function is also increasing, aggravating the impact.  Functionally, the status of being poor has been turned into a crime, resulting in the poor being used to enrich the courts and municipalities through a cycle of debt that continually increases. The methods used to collect costs, fines, and fees are so extreme that many, if not all, practices have been outlawed when applied to predatory lenders.  These court practices include:
  • Usurious interest rates
  • Payment plans that are harsh, unrealistic and designed to cause failure
  • Hidden costs and additional fees
  • Loss of freedom and repetitive arrests over nothing more than a few dollars that is increased each time an arrest is made creating a never ending cycle of debt
  • Denial of access to families while in jail
Meanwhile, too many courts are ignoring their constitutional requirement to determine ability to pay before imposing fines, fees, and costs on indigent clients, and many courts are illegally imposing jail time as a punishment for unpaid criminal justice debt.  
Public defenders across the country recognize that this is an essential part of advocacy that they must provide in the representation of their clients.  The Committee strives to raise awareness of fines and fees advocacy, and equip line defenders with a comprehensive range of resources to represent their individual clients and create systemic change. The Committee is co-chaired by Thomas-Harvey, Executive Director of Arch City Defenders in St. Louis and Janene McCabe, Director of Technical Litigation for the Colorado Office of the Public Defender.
The Committee has collected research from members on “no counsel courts,” compiled hundreds of training/research/impact litigation resources on MyGideon and promoted them to the NAPD community, published its “Policy Statement on the Predatory Collection of Costs, Fines and Fees in America’s Criminal Courts," supported media requests from external sources and responded to member requests for communications assistance, conducted numerous webinars, and provided information for developing state and federal law. In March 2016, both Fines & Fees Committee co-chairs testified on this issue before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Washington, DC. In January 2018, in response to regressing progress on this issue, the Fines & Fees Committee submitted a letter urging the Department of Justice to reconsider. You can read that letter HERE
The Fines & Fees Committee meets the last Wednesday of each month. If you would like to participate or have a request for resources, contact Heather H. Hall

Committee Members: