The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a Dear Colleague Letter to Courts Regarding Fines and Fees for Youth and Adults (Letter) on April 20. The Letter cautions courts to refrain from engaging in “practices that may be unlawful, unfairly penalize individuals who are unable to pay or otherwise have a discriminatory effect”. It also identifies the possible civil rights violations, public policy concerns, and federal financial obligations that could come from discriminatory imposition of fines and fees.
In 2018, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted policy developed by the ABA Task Force on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System that urges all federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal legislative, judicial and other governmental bodies to apply the ABA Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees (Guidelines). The purpose of the Guidelines is to help ensure that fines and fees are fairly imposed and administered by the justice system so that individuals will not be put in jail or otherwise punished for the “crime” of living in poverty.