General Question

ibstubro's avatar

How would you deal with people that are assessed a fine as legal punishment, but there are no funds to pay the fine?

Asked by ibstubro (18636points) June 4th, 2014

If you are assessed a fine, have money, and refuse to pay, you’re thrown in jail.

But what if you’re assessed a fine and simply don’t have the money, or an acceptable way of raising it (say selling a second car).

For instance, sometimes Community Service can be ordered instead.

I understand this is a large (and growing) problem in the US. Some states mandate mandatory minimum fines for some offenses, so the local judge charged with carrying out the law would have no leeway.

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11 Answers

Judi's avatar

My daughter was in college when she got a ticket she couldn’t afford to pay. She asked the judge if she could do community service instead since she didn’t have the money. She was exposed to a whole group of people she had rarely interacted with before. I think it was good for her.

ibstubro's avatar

I agree, @Judi that community service probably has more value overall for the young and sincere. However, there are times (like a state mandated minimum fine) when the judge is not given that option.

What if she was the single mother of 3 young kids, and community service wasn’t an option, either?

I just think the whole thing needs a lot more thinking through. Fines help support the government, but are they always the best or only way of corrective action?

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Well I think there is only three options 1 pay the fine. 2 community service. 3 go to jail.
if there is another option I don’t know about it.

ibstubro's avatar

I’m hoping something more will come up, @SQUEEKY2. We can be a creative lot.

Judi's avatar

I was just listening on the radio yesterday about one of the Scandinavian countries (I can’t remember which one) that assesses fines on a sliding scale. They said that a billionaire had been assessed over a million dollars for a speeding ticket.
I have often said that assessing the same fine regardless of income is immoral. When I was poor a traffic ticket could destroy my life. Now it would just be an irritation.

ibstubro's avatar

Sliding scale is an interesting thought, @Judi!

I wonder if it might be possible to combine community service cases (voluntarily) in urban areas. Like if, in my example above, two women were allowed to join forces where they took turns babysitting the brood in exchange for a reduction of total hours served. Like an employment program or Craig’s List styled call and answer need program.

Seek's avatar

So if you’re poor the judge can order you to leave your child with a stranger with a criminal record so that you can perform court-mandated slave labor?

ibstubro's avatar


Huh? Did you read the above?

LuckyGuy's avatar

Depending up on the age of the individual you might make some minimum performance requirement., such as:

Perfect attendance and no trouble in school for “x” months.
Completed GED

For adult.
Participation in community service hours a local service organization. Habitat for Humanity, GoodWill, etc. Minimum hours per week to be “Y’” and performance report is required by organization manager.

For “disabled” adult
Some form of Health improvement must be made by a certain date, e.g. number of pounds lost, number of miles walked. (relatively cheep waterproof pedometer or similar devices can be locked on ankle like Lindsey Lohan celebrity addiction bracelet. “Z” level must be maintained or checks will be reduced by ”$A”.

For those on temporary public assistance.
Must submit to weekly mandatory alcohol and drug testing: urine, hair samples. Sample will be randomly tested at lab for as long as debt is owed. If results are positive the public assistance is reduced by “B%” until complete payment is made.

In all cases the individual must be given the freedom to choose between the carrot and the stick.

jca's avatar

Sliding scale is an interesting idea but we all know that there are ways of making your income look like it’s one way when it’s actually another. I can assure you, as someone who has worked in Social Services and for estate planning attorneys and knows of millionaires who hide their money legally in order to obtain government benefits (in other words, welfare, Medicaid, food stamps), this is common. So we’d have rich people who could easily afford fines like the ones @ibstubro is referring to getting away with paying little or nothing.

When I was younger, my car was hit by a drunk driver who also hit a bunch of other cars that were parked nearby. He had to pay restitution through Probation, and the checks were mailed to us when the money came in, which was a trickle but eventually it was paid off. It sucked for me, because I had to “front” the money to get the car fixed, but I did get it back and justice was served, in my opinion. I consulted with one of my parents’ attorney friends, who told me “you could get a judgement against him, but you could wallpaper your walls with judgements and you still can’t make the person pay.”

Also, future wages can be garnished. When someone loses a lawsuit but does not have the funds, the legal system garnishes the person’s future wages, so whether it takes years or decades, the money will be paid off eventually.

ibstubro's avatar

House arrest is an interesting idea, too, especially for those with family obligations. But it’s my understanding that the ankle bracelets are usually available to the wealthy, who can afford to pay all the costs associated with them.

A near neighbor of mine burned a local historic structure down in the process of stealing copper out of it, @jca. He’s a no-income bad egg in his early 20’s and was let off with probation and $2,000,000 restitution. Probably assuring that we will support him the rest of his life, in prison and out.

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