The Administrative Office of the Courts has issued a new form, AOC-CR-415, through which a person can make a motion for relief from costs, fines, and other monetary obligations. The form also doubles as the order through which a judge can rule on the motion.
Earlier drafts of the form have appeared on this blog over the years (here, for example). It’s a challenge to create something that is simple enough to be useful to all parties (including self-represented parties), but also comprehensive enough to incorporate the various legal wrinkles scattered across dozens of statutes. It’s also hard to create something that is useful at both the front end of the process (sentencing, generally) and later in the life of a case.
The form begins with a worksheet designed to give the court a sense of a defendant’s ability to pay monetary obligations. I shared some thoughts about evaluating ability to pay in a pair of blog posts in 2018, here and here. A few items on the worksheet flow from North Carolina law. For example, when ordering restitution the court “shall take into consideration the resources of the defendant including all real and personal property owned by the defendant and the income derived from the property.” G.S. 15A-1340.36. For fines and other obligations the court should consider the defendant’s ability to pay, see G.S. 15A-1362(a) (“In determining the method of payment of a fine, the court should consider the burden that payment will impose in view of the financial resources of the defendant.”), but there is no specific statutory requirement for what factors the court should consider. And so the other items included on the worksheet are a common-sense list derived from similar documents already in use in North Carolina and other jurisdictions.
The order portion of the form begins on the third page. It attempts to incorporate space for findings when they are required, such as the “just cause” finding for a waiver of costs as required under G.S. 7A-304(a). If no finding is statutorily required for the court to grant the requested relief—as is the case, for instance, when the court exempts a person from paying probation supervision fees under G.S. 15A-1343(c1)—then the form doesn’t include space for a finding. The rest of the order gives the court the option to remit, reduce, or docket as a civil judgment various monetary obligations as allowed by law.
I hope the form is useful, but it almost certainly will be improved if it evolves over time. Please email me if you have ideas about how to make it better.