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Fines in Sentencing - A Study of the Use of the Fine as a Criminal Sanction - Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1984
70 pages
This executive summary presents findings from a study of U.S. courts' use of fines as a sanction for criminal offenses. It is based on a national telephone survey of administrators in 126 trial courts in 21 States, site visits, and a sample of case records from New York City's trial courts.
While patterns of fine utilization, collection, and enforcement vary widely within and among States, some common themes emerge. First, fines are widely used as criminal sanctions and are not confined to traffic offenses and minor ordinance violations. Practitioners favoring broad use of the fine feel that it is less costly than custody or probation, but still constitutes a meaningful punishment and deterrent. Second, although large amounts of revenue are involved, very few courts have reliable information on fine utilization and enforcement. Development of sound fines management information systems sould enhance the courts' capacity to use, collect, and enforce fines. Third, evidence suggests that many courts frequently impose fines on offenders with limited means and are relatively successful in collecting them. Factors associated with high collection rates include limited use of installment plans, a relatively short time to pay the fine, and strict enforcement policies that include jail if the offender defaults. Several European countries, such as England, Sweden, and West Germany, make far greater use of fines in lieu of custody. The study recommends that American courts experiment with this approach, since it provides expanded sentencing options, reduces reliance on short-term jail sentences, and better meets victim's needs. Tables and 22 references are supplied. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: November 1, 1984