The meter starts running in California as soon as someone is charged with a crime. There are booking fees, fees for a public defender, a court operations assessment, court security fees, fees for alcohol and drug and domestic violence classes. A misdemeanor vandalism conviction can result in a fine of $1,000. All fees and assessments are added, that can inflate to $4,200. Running a red light is a $100 fine — but depending on the county, the total cost can easily reach $400 or $500 when fines and fees are tacked on, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. For decades, the state’s court system has relied on this complicated scheme of fines, fees, assessments and penalties levied on defendants as a source of funding
After a controversial decision by a state appeals court and fueled by the criminal justice reform movement, the elaborate system of fines and fees might be sharply reduced or eliminated. Restitution fines paid to victims would remain. Such a move would have potentially huge impacts outside the courthouses. Wiping out fees and fines poses a dilemma for state and local budgets, which would take an enormous hit. Reformers argue restructuring and even eliminating the systems of fines and fees would relieve tens of thousands of people — largely low-income minorities — from court-ordered debt that can linger for years, affect credit scores and limit access to housing, employment and other benefits. One effort to change the system in the legislature crashed this month. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have required judges to hold a hearing to determine someone’s ability to pay before assessing fines or fees and exempted people who are homeless, receive public assistance or are very low-income. The veto may have cleared the way for a far more sweeping proposal that would eliminate fines and fees.