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Judges might be able to reduce court costs for low-income people

Showing “undue hardship” to a judge may be able to lower a person’s court costs.

Under current law anyone appearing in criminal or traffic court must pay a $75 surcharge to the court, unless the case is for a parking violation, which has a $12 surcharge. These surcharges are mandatory, and judges cannot waive them.

HF1060 would require judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay surcharges, including the hardship that paying a fee or surcharge would place on the person’s immediate family. The bill would also allow judges to impose community work service in lieu of the surcharge.

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division approved the bill Thursday and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), sponsor of the bill, testified that more than 50 percent of the time, low-income people fail to pay the surcharges, resulting in extra cost and extra time for the court to try to collect them.

“Right-sizing these fines will lead to a lower default rate, fewer collection cases, and may even increase collection rates,” he said.

The bill includes six factors a court must consider when determining a defendant’s ability to pay:

  • income;
  • dependents;
  • financial resources;
  • basic living expenses;
  • receipt of a means-tested public assistance program; and
  • any special circumstances that may have bearing.

 


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