N.C. Attorneys Challenge Court Fines and Fees as Unconstitutional

Advocacy groups encourage similar challenges across North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s practice of charging criminal defendants with an array of court fines and fees unjustly burdens low-income people and violates the state constitution, according to a motion filed today in Wake County Superior Court. The motion challenging the constitutionality of court costs is the product of a working collaboration between several nonprofit organizations including the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The state’s criminal justice system charges defendants with mandatory fines and fees for costs related to court, jail, community service, and more. These fees start at $180 but can reach into the tens of thousands and are used to fund various state agencies, even though the state constitution requires that most should fund the public school system.

Attorney Scott Holmes filed the motion in the case of Carol Anderson and Dale Herman, demonstrators arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building protesting House Bill 2. The motion challenges the constitutionality of court costs on the grounds that some are being used to fund the court system, not the local school system as required by the constitution. Article IX, Section 7 of the state constitution states:

“…all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”

The coalition has made the motion available as a template for other attorneys to use to challenge the constitutionality of court costs throughout the state.

The motion filed today is available for viewing and download at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFees

Attorneys interested in filing similar motions can find a template document at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFeesTemplate.

After the motion was filed in Wake County Superior Court, statements were issued by the following coalition partners:

Cristina Becker, Criminal Justice Debt Fellow at the ACLU of North Carolina:

“For far too long the legislature has gotten away with circumventing the state constitution to fund an array of state agencies on the backs of the poor. North Carolina’s excessive court costs have created modern-day debtors’ prisons that keep people in jail simply for being poor and have a devastating impact on communities across the state. We are offering this motion as a template for other attorneys throughout the state and encourage them to use it to challenge the unconstitutionality of court fines and fees in every jurisdiction.”

David Hall, criminal justice attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

“We must do everything we can to end the unconstitutional practice of funding our court system on the backs of the poor and indigent people of the state.  The burdens of court fines and fees disproportionately affect people of color, and it’s time to end this practice.”

Scott Holmes, attorney for Anderson and Herman:

“This is an important step in reversing the flow of resources in the school to prison pipeline.  Our Constitution requires that the fees collected in criminal cases shall fund the education of our children in public schools, not fund our courts.”