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Judges might be able to lower court costs for low-income people

Demonstrating “undue hardship” to a judge may be able to lower a person’s court costs.

Under current law, anyone appearing in criminal or traffic court must pay a $75 surcharge to the court, unless the case is for a parking violation, which has a $12 surcharge. These are in addition to any fines imposed for a violation. Judges cannot waive them.

HF306 would require judges to consider reducing or eliminating the surcharge, including if the hardship that paying a fee or surcharge would place on the person’s immediate family. A judge could also impose community work service in lieu of the surcharge.

On a 19-0 vote, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill Tuesday and sent it to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) sponsors the proposal that has no Senate companion.

The bill specifies six factors a court must consider when determining a defendant’s ability to pay:

  • income;
  • dependents;
  • financial resources;
  • basic living expenses;
  • receipt of a means-tested public assistance program; and
  • any special circumstances that may have bearing.

“This is not a free pass” to let hard-core and repeat offenders off without consequences, said Dave Hunt, a St. Paul city attorney. Rather, he said, the proposal would promote fairness in the criminal justice system by not overly punishing poor people.

“This individualizes justice,” he said. “It makes justice on a case-by-case basis, and I fully support that.”

The bill would require new language to be printed on the back of the “uniform traffic ticket” used by peace officers in the state: "All or part of the cost of this summons may be waived on a showing of indigency or undue hardship on you or your family."

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