Fines and Fees
Private Property

Fair Funding for Courts Act

The justice system is a core government function and should be funded from general revenue

The justice system is a core government function that benefits all Americans. State legislators should fund courts from general revenue, not from individuals involved in the system. Fees charged to users of the judicial system are hidden taxes that cause numerous problems.

Fees are assessed at every stage of a court proceeding from pre-trial to post-conviction. In some states, even access to a public defender requires an application fee. Other fees include pretrial or bond fees, diversion fees, conviction fees for prosecution, DNA testing, court security, judges’ retirement funds, court operations, probation or parole supervision, custody fees, and interest or collection fees assessed when an individual is trying to pay down court debt. In some states, people who are not convicted still are responsible for fees.

The Due Process Clause forbids government from imposing fees that create a conflict of interest or even the appearance of one. More problematic, collecting fees often yields little revenue. Some courts recover less revenue than they spend collecting fees.

Worse, fees can be devastating to individuals against whom they are assessed. Many people forego food, rent or utilities to pay fees. Having court debt also can disqualify individuals from housing, jobs, or student loans, which perpetuates the cycle of economic instability.

Finally, relying on fees is bad for communities. The use of fees is associated with higher rates of recidivism. They also may foster mistrust between communities and law enforcement, deteriorating public safety. And as a practical matter, when individuals cannot pay off their debt from fees, they remain in the justice system for longer, which costs taxpayers more money.

Enacting IJ’s model bill can help state legislators address all these issues by funding courts fairly.