House Bill 244 is a new piece of legislation introduced by State Representative Sean Lynn that will help end a concept of Debtor’s Prisons in Delaware, where criminal fines and fees are imposed on Defendants who lack the means to pay them, resulting in either further incarceration, further obstacles towards rehabilitation (as in suspension of driver’s licenses), or years of crushing debt.
A single misdemeanor with a $100 fine can balloon into hundreds of dollars in fees owed to the courts. These fees are not intended as a punishment or deterrent — their purpose is to generate money to pay for certain government functions. An example from the Campaign to End Debtor’s Prison website:
In the first six months of 2018, 129 people were sentenced to prison only for failing to pay Delaware Court ordered fines and fees. Failing to pay a fine or fee can quickly lead to escalating punishment – arrest warrants and driver’s license suspensions. An arrest or loss of the ability to drive frequently leads to loss of employment, only making it more difficult to pay off court debt. In 2017 Delaware suspended 20,679 driver’s licenses for failure to pay court-ordered fines and fees and 44,889 warrants for failure to pay were issued for just non-felony offenses.
So House Bill 244 will:
- (1) Prohibits a court from imposing a fine, fee, cost, or assessment on children without the means to pay them.
- (2) Provides the courts with the discretion to waive, modify, or suspend any fine, fee, cost, or assessment.
- (3) Prohibits a court or the Department of Transportation from suspending a driver’s license for nonpayment of a fine, fee cost, assessment, or restitution and from charging a penalty, assessment, or fee to a defendant for the cancellation of a warrant issued due to the defendant’s nonpayment of a fine, fee, cost, assessment, or restitution.
- (4) Prohibits a court from imposing an additional fee on a defendant for payments that are made at designated periodic intervals or late, or when probation is ordered to supervise a defendant’s payment. Nothing in this Act precludes the court from filing contempt charges against defendants who willfully fail to pay their fines.
- (5) Eliminates the Public Defender fee and the Probation Supervision fee. The collections from these fees currently go to the General Fund.
|House Bill 244 Sponsors||Yes Votes||No Votes|
|Lynn, Longhurst, Baumbach, Brady, Morrison, Wilson-Anton|
|Brown, Gay, S.McBride, Sokola, Sturgeon|
|Current Status — House Appropriations 6/17/21|