Delaware Courts are not issuing bench warrants for failure to pay court debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Delaware State Courts launched the new policy in consultation with the state Department of Justice (DOJ), the Office of Defense Services and others in response to the financial impact the pandemic is having on many people.
Margaret Hu s a volunteer with the grassroots organization Network Delaware and a campaign coordinator with the Campaign to End Debtors’ Prisons.
“The work that we do through my campaign - we are urging statewide reform of court debt," said Hu. "So what this notice is in regards to are the court fines and fees that every person is mandatorily obliged to pay for if they are found guilty of any charge in Delaware.”
Hu offers an example of who this affects.
“That includes traffic charges - so if you’re found guilty of running a stop sign; so like very innocuous criminal charges that people are found guilty of - they are obliged at the end of their case to pay a set of fines and fees.”
Hu says the Campaign to End Debtors’ Prisons has been pushing for reform of Delaware’s State Court fines and fees system.
“The fines are levied at different levels, depending on the nature of the offense and can be waived by a judge," said Hu. "However, the fees are mandatory after every offense and they go through a bunch of different buckets of state funding. But they also total up to about $200, to $300 - sometimes up to $400 or $500 - if you tack on probation fees.”
Hu says under normal circumstances most people can pay these fines and fees easily.
But she argues that’s not the case now with the pandemic putting more and more people out of work - and this move by the courts helps avoid creating additional financial burdens for residents affected by the crisis.
As part of ceasing the issuing of failure to pay capiases, the State Courts have also ceased the imposition of late fees and the accruing of interest indefinitely.