A new report released this month questioned Wilmington, Delaware’s reliance on fines and fees after finding the scheme places a disproportionate burden on Wilmingtonians and produces an “inefficient” amount of revenue for the city. 

In its report, the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service found the fines and fees Wilmington charges with its parking and red-light cameras place a significant financial burden on residents. In a survey conducted as part of the study, 69% of respondents stated it was difficult for them to pay the city’s citations and fees. Some said that the costs were so burdensome it forced them to borrow money, forgo paying other bills, and even take out payday or title loans. 

Outrageously, Wilmington makes little to no money off its fines, according to the study. Since 2018, enforcement actions ate up most of the revenue generated by the tickets and fees. In 2022, for instance, only 44 cents for every dollar collected in fines and fees was used for other municipal functions. 

The University of Delaware’s findings aren’t new or unique. Four years ago, AAA released a report that found numerous issues with Wilmington’s scheme. The problems were so abundant the group, “… found it nearly impossible to assist or credibly guide motorists because of the multiplicity of systemic parking issues in the City of Wilmington,” according to the report. 

Wilmington often forces residents to pay horrendous amounts of money despite doing nothing wrong. Many have even had their vehicles towed and destroyed in spite of not violating the law in any way. 

Ameera Shaheed’s car got ticketed repeatedly despite being legally parked. While Shaheed appealed her tickets, the city towed her car and demanded she pay them in full. When Shadeed, a disabled grandmother, couldn’t afford the more than $300 in fines, the tow company scrapped her car, which was worth over $4,000.  

Despite destroying her car, Wilmington still demanded that Shaheed pay her tickets. The city even added additional penalties and claims she owes $580. 

Even drivers who pay their fines are still subject to abuse. Earl Dickerson paid his ticket, but when he went to reclaim his car, the tow company refused to release it unless Dickerson paid another $910. Dickerson couldn’t afford that fee, so the tow company scrapped his car too and kept the proceeds. 

On behalf of Shaheed and Dickerson, the Institute for Justice is suing the city of Wilmington because its program violates the Constitution. The Constitution prohibits jurisdictions from issuing excessive fines and Cities cannot just take people’s property without just compensation. 

IJ has spent decades fighting abusive fines and fees programs, whether it’s a town turning its police department into a collection agency, or Wilmington nickel-and-diming its residents out of their money and property. Respecting the right of private property is critical to creating a just and prosperous society. No American should face this level of highway robbery. 

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The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm. Our mission is to end widespread abuses of government power and secure the constitutional rights that allow all Americans to pursue their dreams. IJ has represented individuals who faced retaliatory code enforcement for public comments they made, were arrested for posting jokes about their local police departments on social media, or had baseless lawsuits filed against them because of their criticisms of government officials. If you feel the government has abused your constitutional rights, tell us about your case. Visit https://ij.org/report-abuse/.  

About the Institute for Justice 

The Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty that defends the rights of Americans all over the country, including those who want to provide private solutions to a public problem like homelessness. From suing the FBI, to getting people’s property returned to them, to helping rural Georgians save their land from being taken by a private railroad, IJ aims to protect everyday Americans’ civil liberties free of charge. For more information on the Institute for Justice and its work, visit www.ij.org.