The Real Cost of Court Fees & Fines in Pittsburgh & Allegheny County
When people are exposed to the criminal justice system for the first time, they are usually surprised by how unfair it is – especially when it comes to money. If you’re wealthy and facing charges, some cards aren’t stacked against you, like making bail or paying court fees. But if you have limited means, the costs and fees attached to dealing with a criminal charge in Pittsburgh make a huge difference. The ability to pay could even result in whether or not you spend time behind bars.
At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have decades of experience representing people in hard times. We know the ins and outs of dealing with criminal charges. Let us explain your situation, what it means financially, and fight for the best possible result.
Call (412) 281-2146 for a free and confidential case consultation.
You Shouldn’t Go To Jail for Being Poor
State courts, including those in Allegheny County, can jail you if you don’t pay collateral – money deposited to ensure you show up – if a judge decides you can afford to do so.
About 3,600 court dockets in Pennsylvania were jailed because they didn’t pay collateral and reported Public Source. As of February 2020, about 160 of them were in Allegheny County. Sadly, that practice is arguably unconstitutional for people who honestly can’t afford to pay, under state and US supreme court decisions.
If you’re indigent, you cannot be penalized for an inability to pay. However, you can be jailed if you miss a payment or are arrested on a warrant, and you don’t post collateral. While the purpose is understandable, there’s no right way to decide who should be jailed or not. It’s up to the individual judge to determine who can afford to pay or not. One judge may lock you up for nonpayment, while another may let you go.
Warrants & Notices of Missed Payments in Pennsylvania
If you don’t respond to a court summons or miss a court payment, you should be mailed a pre-warrant. If you don’t respond after 10 days, a bench warrant can be issued for your arrest. After being taken into custody, you appear before a judge. A payment determination hearing should be held.
At the hearing, a judge may find you’re able to pay court fines and costs, but you decided not to. If that’s the case, you can be sentenced to jail time compensation where you are credited $40 per day toward what you owe for traffic cases. A judge could give you jail time compensation if you’re facing another offense. Some people have been known to ask to go to jail and be compensated because they don’t have the money to pay.
Court Costs & Fees May Be Much Higher Than Necessary
As bad as this system is, the amounts may be illegally inflated, too, according to Pennsylvania’s American Civil Liberties Union. Courts assess court costs to defendants. They should be billed once per case, no matter how many charges or counts you face, the ACLU states in a lawsuit filed in Montgomery County Commonwealth Court outside Philadelphia.
The ACLU claims defendants are charged hundreds or thousands of duplicative fees per charge, instead of per case.
The ACLU claims they wrote a letter to county court officials in 2018 asking them to stop the practice. Instead, they created a policy to allow multiple charges. There are five plaintiffs. Double charges added $250 to $300 to their bills.
The ACLU states more than 500 others in the county double-billed from January 2019 to October 2020. From 2008 to 2018, there were almost 13,000 double-charged defendants in Montgomery County – the most in the state – and the problem exists in other counties.
Since those found guilty or who plead guilty don’t get an itemized list of court costs, they can’t object to or appeal. If they can’t pay the costs after their prison release, these duplicate charges can cost much more due to late fees and interest charges.
Get Help From Lawyers You Can Trust
Worgul, Sarna & Ness understands the impact these costs and fees can have on our clients. We will work with you, so if you need to pay, they’ll be fair and as low as possible.
Not only is criminal law complex, but criminal court procedure is also complicated. If you represent yourself, you could end up throwing yourself at the mercy of an uncaring bureaucracy.
If you have been arrested or are having problems with court fees or costs, call the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation.