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Criminal Justice Fines: The Role of the Local Court and a Review of Reform Alternatives
AdvisorMarsh, Shawn C.
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Local courts throughout the United States regularly assess fines in criminal and traffic cases when defendants plead guilty or are found guilty of violations. Fines serve as a form of punishment. They are also intended to deter future violations by individual violators and by the public in general. In many jurisdictions, collected fine revenue is transferred to a local governing body where it is used to fund local government operations.Courts fulfill various roles in criminal and traffic cases where fines are assessed. They aim to do justice, follow legal and ethical requirements, collect fines, and distribute funds as required by law. These roles are well accepted. Until recently, this process has received relatively little criticism. Recent events, however, have prompted calls for reform. Most notably, the 2015 investigation of practices in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown, highlighted serious systematic problems where a criminal justice community focused on funding local government services through fine revenue.This paper examines the practice of assessing criminal justice fines in local courts and the goals associated with those assessments. The paper discusses the proper role of the court in that process. The paper also evaluates different reform alternatives available for states and communities that are willing to confront concerns that are present when local court fines are used to fund local government services. The paper suggests that some reform options would be beneficial for communities throughout the country and should be immediately implemented, some are ripe for further experimentation, and some are not viable at this time.