Courts charge the defendants who do not keep up with the payment plans, to pay interest, additional fees and enforce additional penalties. Sentences for misdemeanors and felonies include fines, plus restitution and jail time. Sometimes sentencing judges have no discretion to impose a fine, and the amount. Factors influencing the fine size, are the defendant’s criminal record, the seriousness of the crime and length of jail-time. In addition to fines, defendants may pay court costs and fees.
In addition to extra fees and interest, the court can send the debt to a collection program, suspend drivers’ licenses and vehicle registration, seize the defendant’s own property such as their tax returns, bank accounts, and wages, levy their bank accounts and garnish their wages or tax refunds to force them to pay the debt, place a lien on a house and finally force defendants to sell their homes to collect debt. Defendants can stop collection sanctions by contacting the court or the collection program by making a full payment or revised payments. Defendants cannot dispose off their court-ordered debt and fines and restitution of criminal sentence can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy case.
Inability to Pay Criminal Fines?
Judges decide on the quantum of fine and how to collect it. If collection strategies flop, can judges sentence defendants to prison for failing to pay fines? Judges decide whether defendants are unable, or unwilling, to pay fines. At probation revocation hearings for violating a term of probation (paying fine) and hauled into court, the court determines the defendant’s ability to pay the fine, after including the defendant’s current income, property ownership, living expenses, number of dependents, bank account balance, fine amount, and payment history of fine. Defendants repaying some debts by arranging for on-going payments may avoid jail as judges would prefer fines paid rather than place defendants in jail, not earning money.
Trapped in a Cycle of Poverty
Experts agree that fines and other criminal justice debts trap people unable to pay due to poverty. A molehill of a fine could turn into a mountain of debt. A judge sentences an offender to pay a base fine of $1,000 and additional fees of $2,000, but is unable to pay at time of sentencing. He pays additional $300 for a payment plan on the debt and is charged a supervision fee of $125 per month. With a steady job, he makes payments of $50 per month but is laid off and has no savings. The probation officer threatens re-sending to jail for missing payments. Finally, the court suspends his driving license, referring his debt to a collection program. Without reliable transportation, he cannot find work and fails in further repayments but his court-ordered debt does not expire and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court. At the probation revocation hearing, the judge finds that he is unable, but not unwilling to pay his debt. The judge extends his probation giving more time to find a job, and allows him to reduce his debt with unpaid community service.
Talk to a Lawyer
If ordered by court to pay criminal fine/fees, when you cannot possibly pay, consult an attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can confirm if the fine is legal and what is needed to get a reduction or alternate payment plan.