RALEIGH (January 27, 2022)  Effective January 1, 2022, the new North Carolina Supreme Court rule will require trial court judges to consider a person’s ability to pay upon request before imposing costs, fees, fines, restitution, or other monetary obligations. These new rules follow the release of an ability to pay form published by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts in late 2020. The Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, has worked with the NC Fines and Fees Coalition to push for meaningful assessment of one’s ability to pay court costs. The project has also advocated for District Attorneys’ offices throughout North Carolina to conduct debt relief programs to end long-term driver’s license suspension.

“Through our work to end debt-based driver’s license suspension, it became apparent many of the individuals suspended for not paying their tickets were not able to pay their criminal court costs at the time when they were sentenced,” Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project director Laura Holland said. “As a result, they faced consequences like suspension of their driver’s license.”

When a person going to court submits this new form, the court is required to review the motion and consider whether to waive or reduce court costs. This amended order allows for more fair treatment of indigent North Carolinians who can’t afford the fines and fees that can lead to penalties like suspension of their driver’s license, extension of their probation, civil liens, or even imprisonment. The collateral consequences far outweigh any perceived benefit of imposing these costs.

“A meaningful inquiry into an individual’s financial situation would give them an amount that is in line with their available resources, and prevents the inevitable penalties,” Holland said. “The recently adopted ability to pay rule is a step in the right direction.”

The Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project partners with community members, organizations, and decision-makers to change local and states policies and practices to make the criminal justice system more fair from arrest to reentry. To learn more about our advocacy to end criminal justice debt visit https://www.endcriminaljusticedebtnc.org/