|February 9, 2023 09:55 AM
|Representative Dan L. Miller and Rep. Jason Dawkins
|All House members
|Prioritizing Victims & Setting Standards for Fines and Costs
|Despite the best efforts of many, we know that poorer Pennsylvanians face disproportionate punishment in our criminal justice system because they cannot afford to pay fines and costs, whether from minor traffic cases or more serious criminal convictions. Our system lacks the flexibility and direction from the legislature to assist the court in addressing the economic disparities between rich and poor defendants, and the courts are suffering from inadequate funding that would stop the growing reliance of paying for court administration on the backs of the defendants who sit before them. The failure of the legislature to act on these issues undermines confidence in the court and forces many Pennsylvanians to languish on probation simply because they are too poor to get off it.
In recent years, the Superior Court has repeatedly ruled that courts across Pennsylvania have violated defendants’ fundamental constitutional rights by jailing dozens each month for not paying fines and costs. PennDOT reports that tens of thousands of drivers lose their licenses each year simply because they fall behind on payments of fines and costs. Others face probation revocation or indefinite probation extensions because they are too poor to pay. A 2017 report from the Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness highlighted these problems, and more recent news articles from counties across the state show the toll that unaffordable fines and costs take on individuals and their communities. And even when defendants can pay, the current system takes what money they have and puts it towards court costs rather than making victims whole through restitution.
We intend to re-introduce this bill, which would address this problem by placing clear guidelines in the law for courts to follow. It would:
There are hundreds of millions of dollars of unpaid fines and costs in Pennsylvania, which is now bad debt. It was imposed on people who would never be able to afford to pay it, it has clogged the dockets of busy courts, and it has kept people on probation when the public interest would otherwise be better served with them off of probation. Experience has shown that tailoring fines and costs to what defendants can afford to pay, and putting them on affordable payment plans, is more effective at collecting fines and costs. It is time to prioritize victim restitution and put an end to the punishment of poor people who simply cannot afford to pay. If you agree, please join us in co-sponsoring this legislation.
Introduced as HB190