Many of you probably remember the “I’m Just a Bill” segment from the Schoolhouse Rock! series. It explained—through a musical number that will be stuck in your head all day—how a bill becomes a law. I didn’t compose a song, but in today’s post I’ll attempt to explain what actually happens to the thousands of civil judgments entered for various monetary obligations in criminal court. Continue reading
Tag Archives: fines
On December 1, 2017, two new rules will kick in for waivers and remissions of costs, fines, and restitution. Today’s post offers some preliminary thoughts on those new rules. Continue reading →
The U.S. Department of Justice recently issued a letter regarding its “strong interest” in putting a stop to unconstitutional court fines and fees that target the poor. According to the authors, Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Department, and Lisa Foster, Director of the Office for Access to Justice, “[T]he harm caused by unlawful practices . . . can be profound. Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.” The DOJ sent the letter to judges and court administrators in all fifty states on March 14, 2016, directing them to review their procedures on imposing and enforcing fines and fees. An article from the New York Times states that the DOJ rarely issues “Dear colleague” letters of this sort; the last one went out in 2010 and concerned the need to provide interpreters for people who don’t speak English. Continue reading →
I thought I’d take a few minutes and jot down some questions and answers about the new fine-only punishment scheme for Class 3 misdemeanors for many defendants (enacted as part of the 2013 Appropriations Act). Several hours later—after thinking about the different permutations, reading several cases, talking with patient colleagues, and pondering further—I came up with a list of 33 questions and answers on Appointment of Counsel for Class 3 Misdemeanors. The subject poses both constitutional and practical questions.
Beginning with offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013, the basic rule is that a court may not impose a punishment other than a fine for a Class 3 misdemeanor if the defendant has three or fewer convictions and no other statute authorizes a greater punishment. See G.S. 15A-1340.23(d). The impact of this rule is that defendants who cannot receive more than a fine are generally not entitled to appointed counsel because, under the Sixth Amendment, the right to counsel in misdemeanor cases applies only if the defendant receives a sentence of active or suspended imprisonment.
This aspect of Sixth Amendment jurisprudence has always been awkward to apply because it requires that courts work backward from the sentence to be imposed at the end of the case in determining the defendant’s entitlement to counsel at the outset of the case. (For felonies, an indigent defendant always has a right to appointed counsel.) The new punishment scheme for Class 3 misdemeanors poses new questions, such as:
- What dispositions are permissible for “fine-only” Class 3 misdemeanors? Are costs permissible? A deferred prosecution? A sentence of time served?
- When does the court have to determine the defendant’s prior record for purposes of appointing counsel?
- What of a defendant charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor who has been arrested and cannot make bond? Does he or she have a right to counsel although not subject to imprisonment if convicted?
- Do the collateral consequences of a conviction have a bearing on the analysis?
People undoubtedly will have more questions as well as different views about the impact of the change. As always, feel free to weigh in with your questions and comments.