Cut Court Costs for Low-Income Defendants

Racial Justice

Communities of Color Are Among the Hardest Hit By Rising Court Fees and Fines

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed a friend-of-the-court (amicus curiae) brief in Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, on behalf of racial justice and immigrants’ rights organizations in Commonwealth v. Vallejo, a case concerning whether courts can charge low-income defendants restitution fees – on top of other already assessed court costs – for the time a complaining witness spends at the restitution hearing itself.

The brief was filed on behalf of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), Brazilian Worker Center, and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA).

The brief argues strongly against placing these additional costs on already over-burdened and low-income defendants.

“Rising court costs, fines, and fees keep low-income defendants trapped in a cycle of poverty and court involvement,” said Oren Nimni, Civil Rights Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee. “The Supreme Judicial Court should limit the burdens placed on criminal defendants to those more closely related to the crimes committed rather than adding access fees for court processes,” added Nimni.

“As court fees and fines continue to rise, low-income people are paying the price. This case particularly impacts low-income individuals, many of whom are people of color,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “We cannot have a criminal legal system where people experience harsher punishments on account of their income-status,” added Espinoza-Madrigal.

Oral argument in the case is scheduled at the Supreme Judicial Court for April 3, 2018.