December 27, 2017

Statement of ABA President Hilarie Bass Re: Consideration of excessive fines and bail

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2017 — The American Bar Association is disappointed in the Department of Justice directive to rescind a March 2016 letter that asked local courts to be wary of levying high fines, fees or bail on poor defendants. These monetary punishments do nothing to protect the community while placing an unfair and unjust burden on people of lesser means.

Fees and fines that do not take into account a defendant’s ability to pay lead to the criminalization of poverty. Minor infractions such as traffic violations can result in fees that spiral into thousands of dollars. This can lead to unnecessary incarceration for individuals who are unable to pay.  Bail set without consideration of financial circumstances can result in the detention of the poorest rather than the most dangerous or those posing the highest flight risks as intended.

The ABA asks the Department of Justice to reconsider this directive and calls on judges and jurisdictions across the country to curtail setting any excessive fines or bail without consideration of the ability of the individual to pay. If we, as a country, are to live up to the ideal of equality under the law, then there cannot be a price on justice.

Go to for the ABA’s new feature that cites case and statutory law and other legal precedents to distinguish legal fact from fiction.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.