Lower court fees for offenders

April 16, 2019 GMT

KANKAKEE — A new state law will mean less money from court fees for county governments, with taxpayers likely picking up the slack.

Last week, a Kankakee County judge guessed the county could lose 30 percent of its fee revenue as a result. The sheriff denounced the change as a way “to stick it to taxpayers.”

The law, which takes effect July 1, is among criminal justice overhauls nationwide that aim to reduce burdens on the poor.

The county’s criminal justice committee examined the issue last Wednesday.

At the committee’s meeting, Kankakee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington compared what a misdemeanor DUI defendant would be assessed in fines and fees now as opposed to under the new law.

The amount of fees and fines will drop to $1,881, from $2,233 currently, the judge said. That comparison assumes a defendant’s fine is $500, the usual amount assessed, he said.

Under the new law, fees are waived for those who are defined as low income. Such waivers do not apply to violations of the state vehicle code, which includes DUIs, though a bill in the state legislature would include those crimes as well.

“The problem is that people get in downward spirals with traffic cases,” Cunnington told the committee. “They are young and they don’t have a lot of income. They can’t pay fines and their licenses are suspended. Now they’re in for a more serious charge.”

“Our goal is to get people back on the street, be legal and have insurance. This law goes quite a bit further to lessen the burden of fines and costs,” Cunnington said.

Now, court fees go toward 20 some funds, including for teen court, court document storage, court security, trauma, fire prevention and state’s attorney.

Many of those fees are being eliminated under the new law. Cunnington said he strongly supports teen court and is not sure where the money for that program will come from once the teen court fees disappears under the new law.

The fee to support a county computer system will also go away. That fee is going toward paying off a bond that paid for the system.

“We still have roughly 10 years on that bond,” county board Chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, said.

That money will now have to come from the property tax-supported general fund, a development Wheeler called concerning.

Later in the meeting, Sheriff Mike Downey, a Republican, criticized the new law.

“These fee changes are ridiculous. It’s just another way to stick it to taxpayers,” he said. “(The offenders) are the people who burden our system, not the citizens who follow the law and don’t get in trouble.”

He said legislators typically enact laws without knowing the effects.

“All they are worried about is making sure poor Johnny who robbed a bank doesn’t have to pay $500 in fines,” the sheriff said. “It gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘Crime doesn’t pay.’”

Board member Robert Ellington-Snipes, D-Kankakee, agreed.

“Now we have to say crime costs us.” he said.