Texas passed SB 1913 and HB 351 in the 85th Legislature to strengthen procedures in criminal cases, allowing justices and judges more flexibility to hold defendants accountable when they are unable to afford fines, fees, and costs for fine-only offenses. How are these bills working and what are the next steps?
- Criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay for fine-only offenses should be held accountable, but the sanctions should be proportionate and determined on an individualized basis so they are not unduly burdensome.\Per Bearden, courts must establish whether nonpayment of fines or fees was willful before incarcerating an individual. SB 1913 and HB 351 provide justices and judges more tools and flexibility to tailor sentences so that criminal defendants may comply with legal financial obligations without undue hardship.
- Preliminary analysis of SB 1913 and HB 351 shows that Texans are experiencing better outcomes since the changes in law, but more data collection is necessary for complete analysis.
Confronting the Burden of Fines and Fees on Fine-Only Offenses in Texas: Recent Reforms and Next Steps
Additional policy changes are needed to clarify some ambiguous provisions of SB 1913 and HB 351 and further advance the goals of these bills.