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An important and increasingly widespread category of consumer debt is fines, fees, surcharges, and other costs assessed by courts, state agencies, or even private parties as a result of a consumer’s violation of criminal, traffic, or municipal law—everything from a traffic ticket to a fee for using a government-appointed lawyer to the premium on a commercial bail bond. Non-payment of these criminal justice debts can have serious consequences, and you should never ignore them, but instead understand your rights and deal with these debts in a careful and reasoned manner.

This chapter helps you identify your criminal justice debts, explains why such debts require immediate and careful attention, and then provides advice on dealing with these debts. The chapter explains your defenses to incarceration for non-payment, provides advice on how to protect your driver’s license against suspension for non-payment of criminal justice debt, and describes your ability to obtain a payment plan or otherwise reduce or delay payment. Finally, the chapter sets out your rights in responding to a collection action on criminal justice debt—that a debt is too old, that state law protects your income or assets from seizure, and what a bankruptcy filing can and cannot do to deal with criminal justice debt. More than for most other debts, the advice of an attorney is recommended concerning criminal justice debt. This chapter has tips on finding an attorney.