The state legislature created the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, which released its findings last month. The task force report says huge increases in fees in criminal and traffic court proceedings are often resulting in excessive financial impacts for the offenders.
Public defender Tom Piper, who works in Morgan and Greene Counties, offers his thoughts.
“I think it is recognized by all of us who deal with criminal justice that the add-ons have gotten to the point, while it’s politically popular to do that, practically speaking, it’s putting an unreasonable and quite frankly impractical financial burden on the defendants who have limited means in the first place to pay for their county fines,” says Piper.
“Particularly, for my clients, since I’m a public defender, these people are by definition unable to pay for their own legal defense. It boggles my mind how they can possibly be expected to pay these what I call excessive add-on fees that the legislature has decided to impose,” he continues.
Piper adds that the increase in fines seems to hurt the local court system.
“The more these mandatory add-ons are imposed, it affects the county’s ability to collect their own individual county finest that they impose for these violations, which seems to me to be somewhat unfair. To just say, we’re going to fund state projects or state programs by imposing these mandatory add-ons, but in essence taking money from the counties in which the offense occurs, that seems to me to be very bad logic,” he opines.
The report also says that from county to county, the fees and costs for the same infractions vary widely. In Morgan County, a DUI sentence costs thousands of dollars, but as an Associated Press article on this topic points out, it only costs $344 in Macoupin County.