April 21, 2020 RAPID RESPONSE

Fines, Fees and COVID-19

Across this country, hundreds of thousands of individuals are in jail or facing arrest on warrants for failure to pay criminal justice fines and fees. Millions more suffer other significant consequences including suspension of their driver's licenses, mounting interest and late fees, garnishment of wages and tax returns. Most of these individuals are simply unable to pay these exorbitant fines and fees. The COVID-19 crisis has made this situation worse, as the most economically vulnerable have suffered the brunt of skyrocketing unemployment.

This webinar explores the steps that are and should be taken to fairly address criminal justice debt during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists also talk about enforcement of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many of which carry hefty fines, and about ensuring that state and local government do not attempt to fill the budget gaps created during the COVID-19 crisis by raising fines and fees.

Panelists 

Moderator

  • Joanna Weiss, Co-Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center 

Joint Sponsors: ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, ABA Criminal Justice Section

Co-Sponsors: ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic JusticeABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities, ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the ProfessionABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityABA Diversity and Inclusion CenterABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division

Resources

Presentations: Joanna Weiss, Stephanie Campos-Bui

Policy Recommendations and Policy Tracker

  • COVID-19 Crisis: Fines and Fees Justice Center Policy Recommendations and Policy Tracker
    • This is a comprehensive overview of policy recommendations regarding fines and fees during COVID-19. The page also includes a list of recent developments across the nation regarding actions taken to suspend or halt fines and fees. The policy tracker is updated daily.
  • The Coronavirus Response: Spotlight on State and Local Governments produced by The Appeal
    • The Appeal is a criminal justice focused website and they have created a comprehensive overview of developments at the state and local level in response to COVID-19. While the spotlight focuses on a broad range of issues impacting incarcerated and justice-system involved people, it also includes details related to fines and fees. THe spotlight is updated at least every week.

Examples of Policy Recommendations

The Fines and Fees Justice Center is recommending state and local officials discharge all outstanding fines, fees, and court debt. Where that is not possible, Fines and Fees Justice Center is recommending the immediate end to the collection of fines, fees, and court debt, including payments due under payment plans, wage garnishment, property-liens, off-sets of tax refunds, unemployment insurance, and other public benefits. Further, Fines and Fees Justice Center is recommending stopping the sending of delinquent cases to collection agencies, stopping imposing penalties for late or missed payments, and the suspension of interest of unpaid fines, fees and court debt.

The Juvenile Law Center and other organizations have similarly called for a nationwide moratorium on juveniles fines and fees. Read their statement HERE.

Examples of Advocacy Letters

The following are examples of letters to state and local officials concerning fines and fees in the time of COVID-19. Most of the letters also include other demands.

  • Letter to state and local officials from ACLU of Georgia urging release of those in custody for inability to pay fines and fees (in addition to other demands regarding release)
  • Letter to Governor Bullock (Montana) from ACLU of Montana urging suspension of fines and fees (in addition to other demands)
  • Letter to Delaware state court administrator and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Delaware from ACLU of Delaware asking for halting of fines and fees through duration of COVID-19
  • Statement from ACLU of Michigan urging prosecutors to suspend the imposition of fines and fees

State Developments on Fines and Fees

Fines and Fees Justice Center provides an ongoing breakdown (scroll to the bottom of the page) of how states have taken action on fines and fees during COVID-19, thus far.

The following states (and/or localities within the state) have taken action so far: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. 

Federal Government Developments on Fines and Fees

The CARES Act prohibits states and local governments from seizing the $1,200 stimulus checks to pay outstanding fines and fees. 

Fines and Criminal Punishment for Not Social Distancing

Some states have imposed fines on individuals as a penalty for not observing social distancing protocols. New York, for example, has imposed a $1,000 fine for those caught to not be observing social distancing protocols. 

In  Seminole County in Florida, officials have ordered a $500 fine and possible criminal charges for those caught violating an order to quarantine or isolate. Individuals could face second-degree misdemeanor charges, without the possibility to post bond to be released.

Support CRSJ and the COVID-19 Webinar Series

CRSJ provides free webinars and resources for legal professionals and advocates nationwide and relies on generous donor support and volunteer service. Your charitable gift ensures that we continue to address the deepening crises in our collective pursuit of advancing law and justice. Thank you!

Give GenerouslyDonate Today