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Legal Reentry Resources

Court-Ordered Debt

  • Details

    Unfortunately, most involvement with the criminal justice system comes with fines and fees. This means that, more likely than not, you owe money. The debt (money owed) relates to specific crimes and can include administrative fees, court fines, and restitution (paying the court or injured party as punishment for the crime committed). Moreover, you may owe money for a violation or minor infraction from years ago, such as a traffic fine. If neglected, debts can increase over time and can ultimately hinder your ability to secure housing, a drivers license, and a job.

    Debt can be owed to a court, county, state, or victim. If left unpaid, this debt can increase with yearly interest. Furthermore, counties can turn debt over to a collection agency. Unfortunately, this means that nonpayment may impact your credit, ultimately hurting your chances at obtaining permanent housing and employment.

    The key: Be on top of your financial situation, even if you’re starting from zero. Keep track of all the money you have, what you owe, and to whom you owe. Most importantly, be honest with yourself and others about your financial situation. If you are proactive, courts are more likely to  work with you to create payment plans upon release.

    Fortunately, there are laws in place to help you if cannot make a payment immediately.

    Types

    There are three types of court-ordered debts: 1) fines related to a crime, 2) administrative court fees, and 3) restitution.

    1. Fines Related to a Crime: All misdemeanors and felonies carry a fine. Fines are issued to discourage the crimes. However, these fines often have a lasting impact on people, as many individuals are unable to earn enough in wages to cover the cost of their fines during incarceration or upon release.
      • Misdemeanors and felonies each carry a minimum fine. Courts are required to consider your ability to pay a fine, and some fines may be delayed, reduced, or waived. However, certain specific crimes (e.g. DUII) and violations (speeding ticket) have minimum fines that cannot be waived. 
      • Therefore, you may owe money while incarcerated. You may also have fines associated with multiple charges. These fines are owed and paid to the county where your criminal case took place. Be sure to check other counties for potential fines as well, if you are unsure whether you owe for older arrests, traffic fines, or convictions.
    2. Administrative Fees: All courts charge fees to cover some costs associated with your case. A fee may be charged for a DUII conviction, supervised probation, bench probation, or court costs, and they cover things such as security, public defenders, county jails, or other administrative items. These fees are not punitive, meaning they are not intended as punishment. However, the impact of the fees can be significant if they remain unpaid. They are subject to additional maintenance fees, late fees and interest.
    3. Restitution: A court may order an individual to pay restitution. Restitution repays a victim for the harm(s) they suffered. Restitution may be ordered to an individual, a victim’s family, a state or county crime victim program, a business, or a government agency. Most importantly, restitution cannot be waived.
      • For person crimes, restitution may be ordered to cover the costs associated with medical bills or counseling. A court may also order restitution for property crimes, which includes money for stolen or damaged property.

    If you are unable to pay upon release, you may be eligible to set up a payment plan or delay your payments. This depends on whether you have been willfully disobeying your payment or not. Thus, it is important that you become aware of any debts you owe immediately.

    How Court-Ordered Debt Works
    1. You are charged with a crime. This crime has a financial penalty, both a fine and court fees. The court shall consider your ability to pay the penalty, and you may have the opportunity to waive, suspend, or delay your fine or fee depending on the crime.
    2. If you do not set up a payment plan or pay the fine or fees within 30 days, the court assesses an additional account maintenance fee (between $50 and $200).
    3. If no action is taken after another 30 days, the court may turn your fines and fees over to a collection agency. When sent to collections, an additional 28% collection fee is added to your balance. In Oregon, the main collection agency is the Oregon Department of Revenue (ODOR); however, in some circumstances, the ODOR turns the collection over to a private collection agency.
    4. Each year that your balance goes unpaid, an additional interest fee of 9% is charged by the State. THIS ADDS UP FAST!
    A hypothetical scenario:

    You owe $1,000 for a specific crime (fine)
    You owe $500 for court costs (fee)
    Total Amount Owed at Conviction: $1,500 ($1,000 + $500)

    You fail to pay in the first month. An additional $200 is added to your debt.
    Total Amount Owed After One Month: $1,700 ($1,500 + $200)

    You fail to pay after two months. The county court turns your balance over to collections.
    Total Amount Owed After Two Months: $2,176 ($476 + $1,700)

    After one year, you may be charged interest (though courts may consider “good cause” not to charge this interest).
    Total Amount Owed After One Year: $2,371.84 ($195.84 + $2,176)

    In one year, the amount owed increased from $1,500 to $2,371.84 simply due to nonpayment. Therefore, you must find out as much as you can about court-ordered debt and work with your attorney, the county, and your parole officer to address money owed.

    How to Deal with Court-Ordered Debt
    1. Determine how much money you owe. Fortunately, Oregon has a central filing system, Oregon eCourt. This system allows someone with access to determine all the debts in your name by criminal charge. To determine whether you owe money and how much you owe, contact:
      • Supervisor or Counselor (if still incarcerated)
      • Your attorney
      • The Public Defender office in the county in which you were sentenced
      • County Court
      • Your Parole Officer
    2. Determine if you have been making payments. You may have set up a payment plan with the court prior to incarceration. If this is the case, the court may already deduct money from your prison account, or family or friends may be submitting payments on your behalf. If you have a plan in place, make sure that payments have gone through and that nothing has changed.
      • If you did not set up a plan, the court may automatically deduct money from your prison account. If this is happening to you and you were unaware of this until now, contact your attorney. If you owe money and you are not aware of any payments being made on your behalf, from family or from automatic deductions, you also need to contact your attorney. In either case, you may be able to set up a payment plan now, or you may seek relief from payments until you are released. If you do not address this, you could face additional fees and interest.
      • If you never received notice of fines or fees, you may have have a legal remedy to reduce the amount you currently owe.
    3. Make payments on your debt, or create a payment plan with the court. You need to create a plan to begin paying that money now, whether you are incarcerated or recently released. You may be able to contact the court, inform them of your awareness and willingness to pay, and work with your attorney to create a plan to decrease your debt while incarcerated or upon release. YOU MUST BE PROACTIVE.
    Other Important Notes:
    • Oregon’s system is easy to use relative to other states. All payments are made to the circuit (county) court from which you were sentenced.
    • The State may punish you for your inability to pay for traffic offenses by revoking your license. Therefore, when preparing for release, be sure to check for previous traffic-related fines.
  • County Resources

Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC)

Contact Us

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    Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) is located in Wood Hall on the Law Campus.

    Professor Aliza Kaplan
    Director
    akaplan@lclark.edu
    503-768-6721

    • Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) Lewis & Clark Law School10015 S.W. Terwilliger BoulevardMSC 51 Portland OR 97219