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Annual Publication

Increasing fines and fees, and sanctions for nonpayment, can have a particularly devastating effect on the lives of low-income offenders. This year's edition of Trends in State Courts examines how states are coping with the challenges and opportunities posed by fines, fees, and bail practices.

  • How the Fines and Fees Issue Impacted the Missouri Courts
    Hon.  Karl A. W.  DeMarce

    Some Missouri municipalities have operated their police departments and municipal courts in a manner designed primarily to maximize revenue from fines and fees. Reforms are now being undertaken to refocus the municipal courts upon the legitimate purposes of the justice system, with consideration given for an offender’s ability to pay.

  • The Third Generation of Bail Reform
    Timothy Schnacke

    Previous generations of U.S. bail reform made changes to the pretrial release and detention
    process, but did not ultimately achieve fair and rational bail systems. Led by judges, the current,
    third generation of bail reform can succeed where earlier generations have failed.
  • The Role of Courts in Eliminating the Racial Impact of Criminal Justice Debt 
    Larry Schwartztol

    Over the past two years, the harms associated with criminal justice debt have gained widespread
    attention, which has sparked promising momentum for reforms. Central to understanding those
    harms is identifying the racially disparate effects of practices in jurisdictions around the country—
    courts should champion reforms to eliminate those disparities.
  • Rethinking Driver’s License Suspensions for Nonpayment of Fines and Fees 
    Andrea M. Marsh

    States are considering new approaches to mitigate the individual and public costs of license suspensions tied to a driver’s failure to pay fines, fees, and surcharges from traffic or criminal cases. Approaches include relicensing programs, enhanced procedural protections, and elimination of suspensions for nonpayment.

  • Bail Reform in New Jersey 
    Hon. Stuart Rabner

    Many defendants who pose no real threat to public safety languish in jail pretrial because they cannot afford bail. New Jersey is using a risk-assessment system, rather than monetary bail, to determine
    whether defendants should be held in jail before trial.
  • Controlling the Message in Times of Court Challenges
    Beth S. Riggert

    Distrust of institutions is increasing, traditional media are losing prominence, and people
    are retreating into “echo chambers” reinforcing existing beliefs. Courts must adopt modern
    communication strategies to tell their own stories through focused, consistent messages that
    connect their important work with the values of the people they serve.
  • View from the Michigan Bench
    Hon. Elizabeth Hines

    Many state and local governments require courts to collect supplemental assessments from offenders,
    which indigent offenders often cannot afford. A Michigan judge gives her perspective on how judges
    can promote accountability without punishing the poor.

  • View from the Texas Bench 
    Hon. Ed Spillane

    Indigent defendants often face court fines and fees they simply cannot afford, thus making them
    afraid of arrest should they come to court. A Texas judges shares his perspective on what judges
    can do to help indigent defendants meet their obligations and never return to court again.
  • ReTooling CourTools: Legal Financial Obligations and the New Measure 7
    Richard Schauffler and Brian Ostrom

    With increased scrutiny on court practices regarding the imposition of fees and fines, the National Center for State Courts redesigned CourTools Measure 7. This redesign provides a more holistic set of measures for courts to assess their practices related to imposing and enforcing legal financial obligations.

  • Arizona’s Task Force on Fair Justice for All 
    Hon. Maria Elena Cruz

    In today’s legal system, money often equals freedom. This article addresses how the Arizona Task Force on Fair Justice for All formulated principles and recommendations that focus on the needs of the community and the circumstances of defendants, not exclusively on the ability to pay.
  • The Problem with Making Children Pay for Probation Supervision 
    Mary Ann Scali and Hillela Simpson

    The National Juvenile Defender Center found that approximately 40 percent of states charge “supervision fees” to children placed on probation in the juvenile court system. These fees increase racial and economic disparities, trap families in a cycle of debt, and undermine the very purpose of probation.

  • The Work of the National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices 
    Hon. Maureen O’Connor and Laurie K. Dudgeon

    The National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices was established in 2016. Their purpose is to develop policies and recommendations that promote the fair, efficient enforcement of the law; ensure no citizen is denied access to justice based on race or lack of economic resources; and promote fairness and transparency in handling legal financial obligations.

Reports are part of the National Center for State Courts' "Report on Trends in State Courts" and "Future Trends in State Courts" series.
Opinions herein are those of the authors, not necessarily of the National Center for State Courts.