Amount of fines academic if nothing collected
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 8:01 pm
KNOXVILLE (AP) — A legislative report shows the value of court fines in Tennessee has been eroded by inflation, but some say it’s academic.
The report notes the cost of most fines was established when the state’s criminal code was revamped in 1989.
But Knox County prosecutor Randy Nichols told The Knoxville News Sentinel the amount of a fine doesn’t make any difference if it isn’t paid anyway.
“What difference does it make if the fine is $50 or $100?” he said.
The review follows this year’s enactment of a statute that allows for the revocation of driver’s licenses in the case of unpaid fines.
The statute was passed after Chief Deputy Criminal Court Clerk Tommy Bradley in Davidson County estimated in his county alone that $361 million in fines and court costs were assessed from 2002 to 2010, but only $71 million was paid.
He estimated the total unpaid fines for the state’s largest counties — Knox, Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton — would exceed $1 billion for the period.
In estimating the impact of the license revocation legislation, the committee staff reported that, based on 2009 figures, there were 328,000 persons statewide ordered to pay fines and court costs and that about 75 percent, or 246,000, did not pay them.
As for the effect of inflation, the report showed, for example, that a $50 fine established for a Class C misdemeanor, the mildest penalty category, would now be $88 if adjusted for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index.
The $2,500 fine established for Class A misdemeanors, which would include drunken driving and other serious traffic offenses, would now be $4,396.
Nevertheless, critics say the new law could have the opposite effect of what is intended.
Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville said people losing their license would be unable to get to their jobs and probably would be less likely to pay their fines. Published in The Messenger 9.28.11