Alameda County looks to eliminate fines, fees for defendants

September 15, 2018
The San Francisco Chronicle - By Megan Cassidy

Alameda County officials have taken a major step toward abolishing what some called “crippling” criminal justice fines and fees that low-income defendants have to pay, a move that was cheered by reformists — and, if passed, would probably make the county only the second in the nation to do so.

Representatives from the Probation Department, Sheriff’s Office and public defender’s office asked the Board of Supervisors on Thursday to exempt criminal defendants from a wide range of assessments and to make up the difference with state funding.

Each described what advocates call a “high-pain-low-gain” model that goes like this: Department charges criminal defendant with a fee or fine for its programming. Defendant either can’t pay the tab or it causes a significant burden. Department recoups only a fraction of its budget anyway.

“It is clear from our clients ... that based on their income and resources they cannot afford counsel,” Public Defender Brendon Woods told supervisors Thursday at a public protection committee meeting. “We should be providing them with representation at no cost.”

Thursday’s presentations seemed to persuade the supervisors on the committee, who pushed the matter forward to a full future board hearing.

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