General Question

flo's avatar

Should fines be meted out according to the income of the person?

Asked by flo (12974points) April 19th, 2012

In some countries it is according to the income of the person. A minimum wage earner and a super rich person don’t pay the same amount. What are your thoughts on that?

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31 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Well, if punishment is designed to punish or to reform, it won’t work if the person being punished doesn’t notice it. And if it is too harsh for the crime, the person will go to jail, and be turned into a hardened criminal. So yes, I guess the punishment should be made into a punishment that is based on the circumstances of the criminal.

lonelydragon's avatar

Yes, within reason. If the fine is too light, it won’t be much of a deterrent, but heavy fines disproportionately affect the poor. A rich person would probably shrug off a $500 fine, for instance, but for someone who’s poor, that $500 may be the difference between making rent that month and being evicted. There should be a sliding scale of penalties based on income.

Charles's avatar

Maybe not and for the same reasons wealthy people have the advantage of hiring the best lawyers to defend them in court.

lillycoyote's avatar

It is kind of a tough one, I’ll give you that, as poorer people may be hit harder, but I would have to say no. The punishment for a crime or the fine for a particular violation should be based on the severity of the crime or the violation, not one’s ability to deal with the consequences. I don’t think it’s really workable or fair. It would kind of be like giving someone more or less jail time according to their psychological and emotional toughness and ability to handle jail. At least I don’t think it should be something done by statute. I think judges, or any type of local or municipal authority levying a fine should have discretion to help and work with someone who has be levied a fine that they may have trouble paying it, and I think those authorities already do have some discretion in these things. But written into statute, that a fine should be levied according to someone’s income? No, I don’t think so.

Also, richer people can’t necessarily commit the same violation, or a variety of multiple violations and over, and simply get away with it forever. In many circumstances, fines will increase with repeated and chronic violation. Like criminal sentences may become longer and harsher if you are a repeat offender. You keep doing the same thing, or do a lot of fineable things, you will be hit harder and harder each time. There is almost always an increasing price to be paid, in one way or another, for repeat offenses.

bkcunningham's avatar

Good question, @flo. I don’t like the idea of dealing out punishment based on your economic situation. On one hand it sounds fair, but say you have a drug dealer who lives with a partner and they have all sorts of money stashed but can show their income level to be next to nothing. Then you have a middle class person who is divorced and paying child support and has a second family they are also supporting.

Can you imagine the extra time it is going to take to pay a fine that could have been paid out of court? Or would all cases have to go to the courthouse to prove income so the fine could be imposed?

Maybe just forget fines and impose community service.

woodcutter's avatar

It would be fine with me but I understand it also would be unfair. It is not a crime in and of itself to be successful so to be more heavily punished for that reason would be counter productive.
You can’t beat the rich. They will figure a way to pass it on down to everyone else, one way or another.

Pandora's avatar

Good question. But I think it depends on the crime. I think speeding tickets should go according to the car you drive. If you drive a vehicle that is easily worth over $250,000 than you should be able to afford a penalty higher than the guy who drives a $20,000 car. You have plenty of play money so that means a $300 ticket isn’t going to make you think twice.

jca's avatar

Someone could be unemployed in but have money in the bank. Someone else might have a nice house but no cash. Someone else might have a high paying job but lots of bills. How would you sort all that info out?

Blueroses's avatar

Yes. You can fine a convict $100,000 but if s/he doesn’t even have $20 in pocket, it means nothing.

You can fine people out of any hope of getting a job. “soon as you’re employed, son, we’re taking your check”

Well then, I’m not doing shit! Take ⅔ of that!

I do not believe in monetary fines for people who will never have it.
I think punishment should fit the crimes.

Blueroses's avatar

Where I live, it’s meted out pretty well at the punk level.

Think you got it tough, poor kid? Dad doesn’t let you take the good car, so you go out like you’re all badass and you knock down some mailboxes and shoot some paintballs?

Guess what, motherfucker? We know you.

We’re not making your parents pay a fine.

You will go to the hospital and transport sick children.

You will go to the Rehab at 2 am and be there when one of what-you-will-be is jonesing

You will give 40 hours to Special Olympics

These are things that mean so much more than monetary fines.

john65pennington's avatar

I generally agree with Lonelydragon to a degree. The only problem is discrimination. If fines were based on a sliding scale of income, some lawyer would file a lawsuit and so much for a sliding scale.

In theory, it sound logical, but in reality, it will never happen.

cazzie's avatar

Yes, I think they should be someone proportional, taking into account any dependants the law breaker has. We do it here in Norway.

@Blueroses When it is a young person, they do the public service thing is a really serious way. As part of my ‘introduction to Norway’ course, I got to attend a court hearing for a young man.. I believe he was 22 and a student (I live in a big University town where the population doubles when the students arrive). He had gotten into a drunken fist fight outside a pub in town. The court room was completely non-confrontational and there was no ‘judge’ but a group of three people sitting at the front of the courtroom and we were told that one person was a court officer and the other two were citizen mediators. The story was told and both sides agreed that community service would be perfectly OK and the whole thing was over and handled with more dignity and civility than I had expected. No excuses for his behaviour. No pleas for letting him off for a first offence. The only three things they took into account was his age, what he had done and what he did for a living (he was a full time student). We were told afterwards that for hearings like this, community service is a very very common sentence. I don’t know what they end up doing. They used to do street cleaning, but I don’t see that anymore.

Nullo's avatar

“Let the punishment fit the crime,” I say. Fining per infraction pins the focus on the infraction, not on the person committing it.

jca's avatar

Someone with a low income who lives at home with their mother may have more disposable income than someone with a high income and a big mortgage, a bunch of kids and other bills, so I am not understanding how this would work. How would that be determined?

cazzie's avatar

@jca All they have to do here is look at our last tax return. It shows how big our mortgage is, the value of our personal assets and any other loans we have and how many kids we support and sources of income. Very simple. And, the sheriffs sends us a form to fill out to let them know if our circumstances have changed since out last tax return. They do the same thing for overdue debts that have gone to court and they want to garnish wages to get the money for the creditor (plus obscene amounts of fees and penalties).

wundayatta's avatar

Spending would be set as a ratio of income. If someone has been irresponsible and has too high a spending rate, they do not get a reduced fine. Similarly, if they have been super responsible and saved a lot of money, they do not get an increased fine. Spending could be adjusted for number of dependents in the family, I would think.

MadisonPaige's avatar

I think it sounds good in theory, but in practice it will end up not much different than our tax system and all its loopholes: I fear the politicians will inevitably write the same sort of loopholes into the penal law so that rich person will end up paying lower fines than the poor person for the same crime.

jca's avatar

What @MadisonPaige said, and also, to administer this whole thing would be very time consuming and labor intensive= lots of money just to do it.

bkcunningham's avatar

It is odd to me that the trend of class warfare is so overwhelming on this forum that there is sympathy for criminals committing the same crime – because of their income?

flo's avatar

Thanks everyone! The proportional system amount makes it even. I asked the question because there are countries where they do that. They seem to have managed the issues that some of you have brought up, I guess I don’t know for sure.

@bkcunningham like some people pointed out, to a billionaire $100 fine is not a deterent. It is a laughable amount to them. And it is not necessarily talking about criminals. It could apply to one traffic violation in a lifetime, like parking in the wrong place for example.

It would be nice to hear from some more people who live in those countries.

flo's avatar

What do you think of Warren Buffet saying “my secretary pays more tax than me that doesn’t make sense”?

bkcunningham's avatar

If I’m not mistaken, @flo, like President Obama’s secretary Anita Decker Breckenridge, Warren Buffett’s secretary Debbie Bosanek paid a higher tax rate than either of the very wealthy men for whom they work. I think our tax system needs some major reforms, but there are other things that need to be addressed first.

flo's avatar

How much work would it take to fix that problem though?

bkcunningham's avatar

Different think tanks with different ideologies have worked for years on what they believe are solutions. The real work would come in the form of trying to get politicians to agree on a solution. That seems nearly impossible at this place and time.

flo's avatar

@bkcunningham I brought it up because of “class warfare””...because of their income?” in one or two of your last posts above.

woodcutter's avatar

That’s what tort law is for. It takes the private sector to really squeeze the rich people/ offenders. If a millionaire’s limo sideswipes a donk and ruins the purple metal flake, causes whiplash to a flat bill, they (lawyers) might tear them a new asshole. If the same thing happens with me, they won’t be getting shit….same damage, same deal.

Mahmoud's avatar

I don’t agree to diffrenciate between tow drivers committed the same violation,
to break the rules is an illigal a regardless who did commit the act, can we punish the poor murderer by imprisoning him while a condemning the rich?
The punishment should determined according to how much the offender will threaten the community not according to how much he keeps in his pocket.

cazzie's avatar

@Mahmoud we are talking about ‘fines’ here, not something that would be so criminal as to require time in jail. Very very different. Comparing a parking violation to a murder is extreme in the least.

bridgetcl's avatar

Does anyone know of a municipality that does fine people according to income?

cazzie's avatar


bridgetcl's avatar

that was helpful! Thank you!

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