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Identifying the Type of Criminal Justice Debt You Have

When you are being dunned for a debt, it is important to determine if it is criminal justice debt, and, if so, the type of debt and to whom the debt is owed. This will often determine how you respond to that debt. If you think a debt might be from a criminal proceeding in which you had a lawyer, contact the lawyer you had in that proceeding to ask the lawyer to send information about how much you owe, to whom, for what, and what your options for payment are. If you think it might be related to a criminal, traffic, or municipal fine or fee for which you didn’t have a lawyer, ask the court clerk or the company or government office that is demanding payment for information about how much you owe, to whom, for what, and what your options for payment are.

Types of Criminal Justice and Government Debt:

  • ● Fines: Monetary fines are imposed by courts as penalties for committing an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.
  • ● Fees: User fees or costs are often imposed by the government to recover the costs of prosecuting, incarcerating, or supervising defendants, or to otherwise pay the costs of the legal system. Examples include jury fees, expert witness costs, costs of extradition, costs of incarceration, and appointed defense counsel costs. Unlike fines, fees and costs are not intended to be punitive and the amount charged may be based on the cost of providing the service or based on a preset schedule.
  • ● Surcharges: Surcharges are a flat fee or percentage added to a fine to fund a particular government function, which may have nothing to do with the alleged violation of law, rather than being tied to the cost involved in prosecuting the defendant.
  • ● Interest, collection costs, payment plan costs, and penalties: If you do not immediately pay your fine, fee, or surcharge, the amount may grow with interest, collection costs, late payment penalties, and costs associated with a payment plan.
  • ● Restitution: A defendant may be ordered to pay restitution to compensate crime victims for losses suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions. Victim-restitution usually is sent to the victim, but in some jurisdictions restitution may actually go to a government agency.

Debts Owed to Private Companies. Some criminal justice debts are now owed to private companies rather than to the state. These private companies may provide and charge you for bail bond premiums, prison phone and video-calling services, probation, court-ordered rehabilitation programs, and GPS monitoring, among other things. Your rights may be different dealing with debts owed to a private company than to the government.

Who Is Now Seeking to Collect the Debt? Often the government, court, or private party that imposed the debt on you is the person who is now trying to collect on the debt. Other times, private debt collection agencies are hired to collect debts owed the government.