The Administrative Office of the Courts has submitted its annual report on criminal cost waivers to the General Assembly. The report, available here, tracks court cost waivers under G.S. 7A-304(a)—among other things.
The AOC is required by law to make this report annually. G.S. 7A-350. It includes waivers sorted by county and by individual judge.
If you are interested in comparing it to last year’s report, that one is available here. From 2016 to 2017, the number of waivers dropped from just over 88,000 to around 50,000. That seems like a dramatic drop, but when you consider overall number of cases in which costs are ordered (just over a million in both years), the better description is probably that cost waivers were already pretty rare in 2016, and got somewhat rarer in 2017.
Technically, the report is required to include only just cause waivers of court costs under G.S. 7A-304(a), but it once again goes beyond that in several ways. First, it tracks not just costs, but also fines and other non-cost fees (like community service fees, which are not covered under G.S. 7A-304). Second, it reports not only when judges waive costs, but also when they remit them. As noted here, costs are remitted under G.S. 15A-1363, not G.S. 7A-304. No just cause finding is necessary to remit a cost or fine.
Finally, the report tracks civil judgments. As in prior reports, the civil judgment category is used “when the judge orders the monetary obligations due through civil rather than criminal enforcement—i.e., the court has ordered that all money obligations are due through civil enforcement mechanisms only.” Report at 2. I’ve voiced my skepticism about that practice—both in terms of the court’s authority to do it without first finding a default, and in terms of whether doing it actually achieves a practical result that anyone really wants. My low-key approach is obviously making an impact: civil judgments rose by about 60 percent, climbing from 22,399 to 35,670. (They did stay under 40,000, which is the number I predicted last year.)
It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the new notice and hearing procedures for waiving and remitting costs and fines (discussed here) will have on next year’s report.