Criminal Monetary Obligations Bench Card Available

The School of Government has published a new resource on Monetary Obligations in North Carolina Criminal Cases.

You can call it a bench card if you want (everyone seems to love a bench card these days), but it is not intended solely for judges. A .pdf of the publication is available here. I also have a printed version that I hope to get into the hands of many of our readers this fall at conferences and trainings. It uses a clever fold-out that may or may not have drawn design inspiration from a Rand McNally social studies fact sheet that one of my younger, um, colleagues had at the house. The order of the pages will—I hope—make a little more sense when you have the printed version in hand.

The main objective of the card is to help bring greater precision to matters related to money in criminal court.

First, there is precision as to the type of obligation in question. There are many different types of monetary obligations—costs, attorney fees, other fees, fines, and restitution—and the statutory rules applicable to them vary. The card groups all of the possible obligations into categories and lists them in the table on page 3.

Second, there is precision as to available relief. There has been a lot of talk about the limitations on judges’ authority to waive and remit certain obligations, but waiver and remission are not the only avenues for relief. The card shows five distinct categories of permissible relief (waiver, ordering partial restitution, exemption, remission, and modification upon default), each of which derives from a different statute, and only some of which require findings, notice, or a hearing.

The card includes some suggested guideposts for thinking about a defendant’s ability to pay any monetary obligation—both on the front end when imposing it, and on the back end when responding to a failure to pay it. It also includes a collection of additional issues (like installment plans, civil judgments, and driver license revocation) related to monetary obligations.

Though the card catalogues the available options for each type of monetary obligation, it takes no position on what a judge ought to do in any case. A district may wish to consider local policies on issues related to money (for example, a presumption of just cause to waive costs based on pre-defined circumstances, or a limitation on the use of arrest or imprisonment in money-only cases), as some jurisdictions have already done (Mecklenburg’s approach is discussed here). If so, I hope this card will help you proceed down whatever path you choose.

Thank you to the judges, lawyers, probation officers, and others who reviewed drafts of the card. Thank you also to my colleagues Kevin Justice and Melissa Twomey, who designed and edited it.

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