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July 03, 2019

Philly D.A. wipes out fines and fees for impoverished defendants

Criminal Justice Courts
Larry Krasner Fines Thom Carroll/PhilllyVoice

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has eliminated fines and fees for indigent defendants who meet the criteria laid out by a new city policy implemented in July 2019.

A new policy implemented by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner will eliminate fines and fees for indigent defendants, placing a greater focus on ensuring payment of restitution in cases involving victims.

The District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday that various court-related fines and fees will not be assessed to defendants who meet certain criteria.

"Today, Philadelphia is a giant leap closer to a truly fair and consistent system of justice in which low-income defendants do not face additional punishment by way of unaffordable fines and fees that drive them deeper into debt and poverty," Krasner said in a statement.

The current system requires defendants to pay fees such as the court-mandated booking center fee ($175), judicial computer project fee ($12), Commonwealth costs ($20.30), costs of prosecution ($50), county court costs ($29.85), state court costs ($13.55), monthly offender supervision fees (minimum $25) and fees associated with the particular crimes in question.

Under the new policy, indigent defendants would avoid those fees if they establish the following:

Be represented by the public defender, court-appointed counsel, pro bono counsel, or any free legal services organization

Receive means-based public assistance

• Have an income at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines

• Provide evidence showing that they are indigent

"Waiving fines and fees can help indigent defendants afford transportation and other costs associated with employment, education and training programs, completing probation terms, and child or elder care," Krasner added. 

In the event that a defendant owes restitution to a victim, their limited funds will be used to make those payments.

“For people living just above the poverty line, fines and court fees become an obstacle to rehabilitation," Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey of the Philadelphia Defender Association said. "They can trap people in a cycle of poverty and incarceration and effectively turn our jails into debtors’ prisons. Just last year, courts in Philadelphia ordered people to pay over $21 million in fees despite the fact that more than a quarter of Philadelphians live below the poverty line."