Increasing Costs in the Criminal Justice System

National Public Radio (“NPR”) ran a very interesting story this morning about the rise in court fees and the corresponding rise in defendants serving jail time because they were unable to pay their court ordered fines, restitution, or other related costs of probation. The whole story can be read here. NPR’s investigation into the costs associated with the criminal justice system spanned all 50 states and was conducted over a year long period. NPR’s investigation turned up some notable facts including the following:

  • 43 states allow defendants to be billed for public defender services.
  • 41 states charge inmates for room and board in jail and prison. This is true in Utah and referred to as the “pay to stay program.”
  • 44 states charge defendants for private probation and parole supervision services. This is true in Utah where almost all defendants on supervised probation pay the costs associated therewith.
  • All states except Hawaii charge the defendant a fee for any electronic monitoring.

In Utah, Defendants get billed at almost every step of the process, from the time they are arrested they have to pay a bail amount, court fines, costs of assessments, classes, counseling, probation fees, jail fees, and the list goes on. It is no wonder why so many defendants default on their court ordered financial obligations and get hung up in the system. Many Defendants are ordered to serve jail time as a result of their inability to pay fines or other court imposed financial obligations.

Too Poor to Pay Fines?

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1983 ruled you could not be sent to jail if you were too poor to pay court fines and fees. The case was Bearden v. Georgia in which the court also concluded a defendant who fails to pay court fines and fees could only serve jail time as a result if that Defendant in fact had the money to pay and willfully refused to do so. Despite this long standing precedent, many courts, including those in Utah are routinely sending defendants to jail who are unable to pay court fines, fees, restitution, or other court orders financial obligations. Often this means the person loses what little employment they have further sending them down the rabbit hole.

Ending the Practice

At Salcido Law Firm we are committed to ending the practice of sending defendants to jail who cannot pay their court fines or fees. If you are in this situation and would like to speak with a Salt Lake Criminal Defense Attorney please call us anytime.

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