In criminal courts across the country, judges assess a variety of fines, fees and other legal financial obligations (LFOs) that many defendants struggle to pay. This paper provides a summary of the authors’ longer empirical article that examines the disproportionate burden that fine and fee assessment and collection practices impose on low-income, system-involved individuals, using administrative court data for criminal cases filed in Washington’s courts of limited jurisdiction between 2015 and 2020. The authors find that the majority of defendants do not or only partially pay their LFOs, but that these observations are more pronounced for indigent defendants. The authors also find that, of defendants who fully pay off their fines and fees, individuals with a public defender satisfy their debt after a greater number of days, as compared to individuals with private counsel. This is all in spite of public defender defendants generally being assessed smaller amounts in fines and fees at the outset. Additionally, the authors uncover that when defendants do pay off all of their fines and fees, they tend to do so on the day of assessment, with the likelihood of satisfying full payment generally decreasing as time goes on. These findings suggest that many people struggle with criminal justice debt, but that this problem disproportionately impacts indigent Washingtonians, subjecting them to a greater possibility of harm through the various methods of collections enforcement.

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