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What are Criminal Fines?
A criminal fine is a type criminal punishment that is imposed for violations of the law. Criminal fines are sometimes available for a defendant as an alternative to a normal criminal sentence in jail or prison. At times a judge may require the defendant to both serve a jail sentence as well as pay a fine.
Criminal fines are mostly reserved for less serious and non-violent crimes. Their main purpose is to provide deterrence and punishment for the defendant, in attempts to prevent them from committing repeat offenses.
How are Criminal Fine Amounts decided?
The amount required for a criminal fine may be decided according to three basic avenues:
- By Statute: A state or federal law may prescribe the exact amount that a defendant must pay as a result of guilty charges. For example, the statute may state, “Any person who is convicted of this crime shall pay a fine of $5,000”. The statute may also place a limit on the amount for the fine, for example, “no more than $5,000”.
- According to the Type of Crime committed: Sometimes the amount of the fine depends on the type of crime. For example, a criminal fine for theft may be “equal to the amount of money stolen”. Or, for a property crime, the fine may be “twice the amount of the property damage”.
- According to the Judge’s Discretion: Many jurisdictions allow a judge to determine the amount of fines according to what they feel is appropriate. The judge may also require a fine in addition to other penalties such as a prison sentence or mandatory counseling.
Thus, a criminal fine may or may not be set in stone. If the fine is determined by statute, the defendant is likely to have a difficult time arguing for a reduced fine. On the other hand, if the fine was determined by the judge, there is a possibility that the defendant and their lawyer can present evidence supporting a reduction in fines.
What if I cannot pay or afford a Criminal Fine?
There is a big difference between simply refusing to pay versus not being able to pay a criminal fine. If the defendant simply refuses to pay, this is often considered another violation and may lead to further legal consequences. For example, the defendant may be placed in contempt of court, which can result in more jail time or yet another fine. Or, the defendant may receive another criminal charge for disobeying a court order.
On the other hand, a defendant is not let off the hook if they can’t afford to pay a criminal fine. A court will likely obtain the payment through a variety of court-enforced collection methods including:
- Wage Garnishment: If the defendant is employed, the court may take some of the person’s wages in order to satisfy the criminal fine payments.
- Seizure of Property: A judge may require that the defendant’s personal property or financial assets be seized and sold at a public auction. The proceeds from the sale will then be used to pay the criminal fine.
- Lien: A court may enforce a lien against the defendant’s real property, such as a home or condominium holding. The property will then be sold and the money will go towards the criminal fine.
If the defendant feels that a fine is too high in comparison to the crime committed, they may be able to persuade the judge to reduce or waive the fines. For example, they may cite the 8th Amendment limitations on sentencing, which prohibit courts from imposing excessive fines.
Do I need a Lawyer for assistance with a Criminal Fine?
If you are facing criminal charges or are being required to pay a criminal fine, you may wish to hire a lawyer for advice. It is to your advantage to work with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. Your lawyer will be able examine your charges to determine whether a fine may be waived or reduced.
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Last Modified: 05-06-2011 01:47 PM PDT
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