Delaware Public Media

New legislation seeks to limit court fees on poor defendants

Mar 15, 2019

Some Delaware lawmakers are pushing legislation to limit the fines and fees courts can impose on low-income defendants.

More than 44,000 warrants were issued by Delaware courts in 2017 for people failing to pay fines and fees. And in the first six months of 2018, more than 120 people were jailed soley for an inability to pay those court costs.

Under the bill sponsored by State Sen. Darius Brown, courts would have to determine whether a defendant has the ability to pay before assessing financial penalties. If a defendant is able to pay, the amount can’t exceed one day’s pay. If they can’t, judges would decide to put them into a work referral program or can wave the fees.

“It’s just how look at justice in Delaware and we try to take a new focus on justice without implicit bias,” Brown said.

He said his legislation also prevents defendants’ driver’s licenses from being suspended because they can’t pay their fees and fines.

“What we recognize is these individuals having their licenses revoked - it now becomes another barrier and impediment for them to get to work, drop their children off at daycare, things of that sort,” he said.

Brown’s bill would also stop courts from charging a fee after cancelling a warrant due to a defendant’s failure to pay.

Under the legislation, courts would also have to report data like total amount of financial penalties they imposed, number of waivers and the methods used to collect the money.