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Four Oklahoma state representatives are examining the way court costs are levied across the state, with hopes to improve the system. Oklahoma state Reps Danny Williams (R-Seminole), Chris Kannady (R-Oklahoma City), Justin Humphrey (R-Lane), and Bob Ed Culver (R-Tahlequah) recently started studying court fees and funding at the district level.

Results were discussed at the Oklahoma House Judiciary-Civil Committee meeting. Representative Kannady is chair of the committee, while Representative Culver is vice-chair.

The initial study examined court costs and fees, to determine how the legislature can create more equitable systems for all of those involved in the Oklahoma judicial system, as well as Oklahoma taxpayers. 

Committee addresses burden of excessive fines on defendants

According to Representative Williams, “Our public servants are burdened with the impossible task of trying to collect money that we will never see, and it’s on taxpayers’ own dime. It’s time to consider potential avenues for a new approach that saves time and taxpayer dollars while ensuring people who commit crimes are fairly punished.”

The Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Damion Shade spoke to the committee about Oklahoma’s fee and fine structure at the district court level, noting that people who are forced to pay large court fees and fines are negatively impacted by the process, as well as their families and communities. Mr. Shade suggested finding a different approach to provide financial resources to Oklahoma district courts.

The state representatives agreed that the current system is untenable. House Judicial-Civil Committee chair Kannady confirmed, “Fines are a necessary part of punishment for crimes, but the fine should not be worse than the crime itself. We are working to find a balance between fines that are appropriate and fines that are unnecessarily punitive, while also seeing how state appropriated dollars can help balance out the system.”

Revamping court system

The committee is considering ways in which the Oklahoma state government can financially support the court system, rather than place the burden of funding on to Oklahoma citizens through court fines and fees. According to committee vice-chair Culver, “It’s important that we in the Legislature work with experts to determine if state-appropriated dollars can help fix some of the issues we are seeing.”

Other speakers at the committee included an Oklahoma County judge, a public defender, and an administrative director of Oklahoma courts. Each attempted to explain the current fee and fine structure levied at those involved in the court system. 

When fines and fees are not paid, citizens risk facing even greater punishments, including imprisonment. 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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