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Virginia Lawmakers Look To Reform Court Fines And Fees

Virginia Democrats, with control of both chambers of the General Assembly, have been advancing legislation aimed at reforming court fees and fines in a state that some say lags behind other states in addressing the harms imposed by them, Courthouse News reports.  Courts charge individuals appointed counsel hundreds to thousands of dollars in court fees if they're convicted, accept a plea bargain and even sometimes when the court dismisses the case.  Despite being one of 25 states to outlaw debt-based license suspensions, Virginia judges can't waive fees for indigent people as they can in neighboring states like Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. An estimated $192 million in fines and fees were brought last year against Virginians. 

A bill being debated at the legislature would now cap the amount individuals can be charged in counsel fees at the current rate, keeping fees from increasing as lawmakers look to increase compensation for state-appointed counsel. But the sponsor of the legislation,  Delegate Rae Cousins,  initially proposed the elimination of those fees altogether. That “would provide great financial relief to Virginians and add the commonwealth to the growing list of states like Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Mississippi that prohibit fees assessed to people for exercising their constitutional right to counsel," said Mary Mergler, national advocacy and campaigns deputy director for the Fines & Fees Justice Center.


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