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Debt Free Justice California-Civil Assessments-The Hidden Court Fee That Penalizes Poverty, March 2022

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March 2022

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Debt Free
Justice
California

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CIVIL ASSESSMENTS:
The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

Acknowledgements
Contributors
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San
Francisco Bay Area
Legal Director, Elisa Della-Piana

East Bay Community Law Center
Staff Attorney, Shazzy Kamali
Western Center on Law & Poverty
Director of Policy Advocacy, Mike Herald

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San
Francisco Bay Area
Equal Justice Works Fellow, Rio Scharf

Berkeley Law School Policy Advocacy Clinic
Clinic Teaching Fellow, Maiya Zwerling

Berkeley Law School Policy Advocacy Clinic
Deputy Director, Stephanie Campos-Bui
San Francisco Financial Justice Project
Director, Anne Stuhldreher

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San
Francisco Bay Area
Senior Communications Manager, Sam Lew

San Francisco Financial Justice Project
Policy Analyst, Michelle Lau

East Bay Community Law Center
Staff Attorney, Candy Smallwood

American Civil Liberties Union of 		
Northern California
Director of Racial and Economic Justice, 		
Brandon Greene

Insight Center for Community Economic
Development
Senior Associate, Natasha Hicks

Western Center on Law & Poverty
Senior Litigator, Rebecca Miller

Special thanks to all the clients, volunteers, and advocates who shared their stories with us and the Debt Free Justice
California Coalition (DFJC), a multi-regional California-based coalition focused on putting a stop to the unfair ways the
criminal legal system drains wealth from vulnerable communities.
Much gratitude to Arnold Ventures for its grant to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay
Area, for making this report possible. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily
reflect the views of the funder.

Berkeley Law

THE FINANCIAL
JUSTICE PROJECT
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Policy Advocacy Clinic

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Table of Contents
Executive Summary

4

What is a Civil Assessment?

6

New Data: 2021-2022 Survey

9

Civil Assessments Harm Californians

9

Civil Assessments Do Not Promote Timely 		
Payments or Appearances

10

Civil Assessments Disproportionately Affect 		
Black and Brown Californians

12

Civil Assessments Pose a Conflict of Interest for Courts

14

Most Civil Assessments are Uncollectible

16

Proven Front-End Tools Make It Easier for 		
People to Resolve Tickets

17

Recommendations

18

Conclusion

18

Endnotes

19

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
A civil assessment is a type of poverty
penalty charged to people who miss a
deadline to pay or appear in court. One
of the highest and most common fees in
California, it is a $300 hidden fee charged
to people in cases involving anything from
a traffic ticket to a felony. For many people,
this can exponentially increase the amount
they owe. For example, the addition of a
civil assessment and administrative fees can
take a $35 base fine for running a stop sign
and increase it by over 850 percent.
Policy decisions about this hidden fee have
been made with very little data about how it
affects Californians, or whether it serves a
purpose. For example, many policymakers
believe civil assessments are most often
given for “failure to appear,” but courts issue
more than 80 percent of these fees in traffic
or infraction cases where no court appearance is required. An estimated 300,000
people get civil assessments each year,
primarily as a punishment for not paying with
money they do not have.

To understand the actual impact of this
hidden fee, the Debt Free Justice California
Coalition conducted surveys with more than
200 people with recent traffic citations. This
new data is released for the first time in this
report.
The survey results speak powerfully
to the problems and limitations of civil
assessments. The survey shows that civil
assessments are not acting as a deterrent:
three out of four people did not even know
the fees existed. The data shows that
paying off civil assessments comes at the
expense of everyday needs—rent, food,
and utilities—for the vast majority of people
who are charged this hidden fee. The survey
also provides insight into why the civil assessment largely fails to induce people to
resolve their citations, with evidence that the
actual cause of most people’s inability to pay
or come to court is lack of money, or other
circumstances beyond their control.

The key findings from the survey and accompanying research are:
•C
 ivil assessments simply do not work.
There is no evidence that charging $300
induces people to appear or pay a ticket.
Survey results show that 73 percent of
respondents were not even aware that
they could receive a $300 fee for missing
a deadline to pay or appear in court. When
asked what kind of punishment would most
incentivize them to make timely payments
and appearances, a plurality of survey
respondents (38 percent) chose, “Nothing.
I simply cannot afford to pay.” Remaining
respondents said partial debt relief, alternatives to payment, or text reminders would
help much more than punitive fees. Both
the lack of awareness of the $300 fee and
4

people’s inability to afford even the original
citation fees suggest that civil assessments
do not and cannot play an important role in
ensuring payment or appearance.
• M
 ost people cannot afford to pay civil
assessments. Of those surveyed, 68
percent could not afford to pay the $300
hidden fee. If people had to pay an additional $300 on top of fines and fees
for the original ticket, 86 percent said it
would affect their ability to pay for food, 75
percent said utilities, and 65 percent said
rent. For the many who can’t afford to pay,
civil assessments are a source of debt,
instability, and anxiety.

•B
 lack and Brown Californians bear
the brunt of civil assessments. Black
and Brown Californians are more likely
to be pulled over, and more likely to be
ticketed. One California study found that
Black people made up just 7 percent of the
population, but over 16 percent of all stops.
Previous studies also have shown that
households of color are twice as likely as
white households to lack adequate income
to meet their basic needs. As they are
given a disproportionate share of tickets,
and more often stopped without cause,
Black and Brown people are disproportionately punished by high add-on fees like the
civil assessment.
•C
 ourts financially benefit from civil
assessment revenue, which creates a
troubling conflict of interest. Unlike other
citation fees, courts get to keep a significant
portion of the revenue from civil assessments. Courts directly benefit from imposing

There is evidence that alternatives to
the civil assessment are equally or more
effective at causing people to pay or
appear by the deadline. Common sense,
non-punitive practices like text message
reminders have proven effective in other
states at getting people to resolve cases.
Californians are eager for local courts to
begin employing similar measures; 44
percent of survey respondents requested
that courts begin offering text reminders.
Other studies show that when we get
rid of extreme penalties, like high fines
or suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment, people are more likely to pay.
Even if there was evidence that punitive
measures work, there are other so-called
“sticks” besides civil assessments in the
current system: people who do not pay can
have their employer contacted and their
wages garnished, lose their tax return, or
have money taken directly out of their bank
5

civil assessments, whether they are appropriate or not. In fact, though the legislature
passed a statute requiring discretion in
assessing the fee “up to $300,” 88 percent
of courts surveyed use $300 as the default
amount to be imposed in every case. In
fiscal year 2019-20, California courts collectively received more than $96 million in
revenue from civil assessments. More than
$54 million of those collections were retained
by the courts and this revenue often constitutes a substantial portion of many courts’
annual budgets. This conflict of interest is
one reason why ability-to-pay programs
are not a solution. In one county, after 18
months of implementing ability-to-pay, the
court imposed the full $300 civil assessment
in 97 percent of cases where the court found
the person could not afford to pay, while
reducing or eliminating the fines and fees
that did not benefit the court.

account. And incentivizing court appearances is unnecessary: in traffic and infraction
cases, where the vast majority of civil assessments are given, people need not ever
appear, because courts can and do decide
cases without the person present, using trial
in absentia statutes.

We must repeal civil assessments.
They are ineffective and exacerbate
the disproportionate punishment
of Black and Brown Californians.
Rather than rely on extreme back-end
penalties that do not work and
drive people into debt, our system
of justice should invest in proven
front-end tools that make it easier for
people to pay or appear.

$ What is a Civil Assessment?
Stephanie Jeffcoat was living in a tent in
Anaheim in 2019. One day, while crossing
the street, she was cited for jaywalking. When
she could not afford to pay the ticket, the
court charged her a $300 fee, which more
than doubled the cost. This $300 fee, called
the civil assessment, is imposed against
defendants who, like Stephanie, miss a court
appearance or payment deadline. Civil assessments, though imposed against at least
300,000 people each year,1 and possibly
as many as one million people each year,2
remain unknown to most Californians.
Stephanie didn’t know that she would be
charged $300 for her inability to pay her
citation. It quickly became a terrible weight.
Through many recent accomplishments—
landing a non-profit job, remaining sober, and
attending school full-time while caring for her
daughter—she continued to carry this court
debt. Aware of the fact that such debts can
lead to wage garnishments, tax intercepts,
and bank levies, for years Stephanie worried
that the civil assessment would impede her
narrow path to financial stability.

sign, or even hitchhiking, biking outside the
bike lane, or forgetting to report a change of
address to the DMV.
By law, courts have the discretion to charge
any amount from $0 to $300. They do not
use it. The vast majority of courts uniformly
charge the maximum amount.3 Most often,
a computer system issues notice that the
person owes an additional $300, and it is
never reviewed by a judge. Of the forty
California courts that responded to public
records requests, thirty-five courts had this
default practice of setting the civil assessment at the maximum $300.4

Stephanie’s story exemplifies the harm
caused by civil assessments. This harsh fee
tends to punish people for circumstances
that are beyond their control and straddle
them with debt that can last for years. Since
Black and Brown families are more likely to
be pulled over, it contributes to inequality and
taxes the people who can least afford it.

Considering that California’s traffic tickets
are already the highest in the nation,5 the
courts’ imposition of additional $300 hidden
fees has the effect of making a bad situation
worse. Civil assessments increase people’s
court balances beyond the point that they can
bear to pay. A $300 civil assessment for
not paying the fine in a jaywalking case,
for example, results in a late fee that is
1,200 percent larger than the base fine for
jaywalking.6 Making matters worse, some
courts impose multiple civil assessments in
a single case, resulting in up to $600 in late
fees on top of the original amount owed.7 The
California Judicial Council itself, in a 2017
Futures Commission report, found that this
practice “exacerbates the cycle of debt and
may decrease [a person’s] ability to pay the
full amount owed.”8 Yet nothing has changed.

California Penal Code section 1214.1 establishes the civil assessment: “in addition to …
other penalt[ies] . . . the court may impose
a civil assessment of up to three hundred
dollars ($300)” against a person who does
not pay any part of a fine, or appear in court.
It can be imposed if the offense was anything
from an infraction to a felony, but the vast
majority are assessed in the most minor
cases, like jaywalking, rolling through a stop

Every year, California courts process over 3.2
million infractions.9 By some estimates, courts
tack on a civil assessment to one in three of
those, making the civil assessment one of the
highest-impact fees in the state.10 For those
who are able to pay their traffic tickets, the
assessment is avoidable, or at worst, an inconvenient price for forgetting to pay. But for the
many who can’t afford it, civil assessments are
a source of debt, instability, and anxiety.

6

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

California’s $300 hidden fees are exorbitant
by any standard, especially when compared
to similar fees in other jurisdictions. In
Florida, for instance, late payments can lead
to $16 fees as well as a collections charge
of up to 40 percent of the original amount
due.11 In Delaware, when someone is cited
for failing to comply with a traffic signal,
local authorities are authorized to impose
late fees, but the fees are capped at $30.12
In several counties in Texas, the initial late
fee is $10–$25, and if the case is referred

to collections, it could cost up to 30 percent
of the fine.13 The maximum fee for a missed
credit card payment—as established by
current federal regulation—is $29, or $40 if
someone missed other recent payments.14
Compare that to the $300 civil assessment
charged in California, which is 152 percent
of the original amount due for driving with
expired tabs or 125 percent for failure to stop
at a stop sign, or $600 when courts impose
it twice in one case, for 305 percent and 252
percent of the original amount due.15

The Cost of a Ticket for Failure to Obey a Traffic Signal in Different Jurisdictions

LATE FEES
$375
$30021

$300
$225
$12520

$150
$75

$5017

$30

16

-

1111

Delaware

New Hampshire

$7918

$11819

Texas

Florida

Utah

COST OF CITATION WITH LATE FEE ADDED

California

$53827

$500
$37426

$400
$30025

$300

$23424

$200
$100

$11222

New Hampshire

7

$28723

Delaware

Texas

Utah

Florida

California

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

LATE FEE AS A PERCENTAGE OF THE COST OF THE CITATION
126%

125%
100%
71%

75%
46%

50%
25%

-

81%

51%

12%

Delaware

Florida

Texas

Utah

New Hampshire

California

Finally, though this $300 hidden fee applies
if someone does not appear in court or pay,
the vast majority of these fees are applied
in infraction and traffic cases, where the
person is not required to appear in court.
If someone wants to challenge a traffic
citation, they can specially schedule a court

appearance, but unlike in misdemeanor
and felony cases, the norm is for people to
pay the citation and never come to court.
As a result, the $300 is primarily used as a
punishment for not paying. In other words,
people who cannot afford to pay the original
amount are charged an extra $300.

In 2009, Saieda
SAIEDA Evans received
traffic tickets,
EVANS three
with hundreds of
dollars of fines
and fees, while she was the primary caretaker
for her daughter and her grandmother who
had terminal cancer. Saieda was already doing
everything she could to keep a roof over their
heads; it required all the time, money, and
effort she had. “I chose to feed my child and
pay rent instead of paying my traffic tickets,
because that was more important. We chose
to survive.”

in late fees, bringing her total balance to
more than $3,000. To make matters worse,
the DMV then suspended her license and
her bank account was levied, even though it
had almost nothing in it.

This was the beginning of more than 13
years of traffic ticket debt.
Because Saieda could not pay, the Court
subjected her to multiple $300 civil assessments. All together, she was charged $1,200
8

“I felt like I was drowning and could not come
up for air. I was trying to get back on my feet,
but this debt kept weighing me down.”
Saieda tried everything to pay off her traffic
ticket debt. She couldn’t do community service
with her demanding work and caretaking
schedule. An Ability-to-Pay program reduced
some debt, but still left her balance at over
$1,000. Saieda eventually connected with legal
organizations, but even with the help of multiple
attorneys, she still owes more than $600 for
tickets she received in 2009. Had she not been
charged $1,200 in late fees, Saieda would have
finished paying off her balance long ago.

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

New Data: 2021-2022 Survey
To better understand the impacts of civil
assessments, the authors of this report
conducted surveys with more than 200
people with recent traffic citations. Through
a mix of in-person, telephone, and online
surveys, the authors gathered information
about a range of issues related to civil assessments, including the causes of missed
court appearances and payment deadlines,
people’s awareness of civil assessments,
and the financial trade-offs that additional
court-debt forces people to make.28 The data
gathered from these surveys is made public
for the first time in this report.

As detailed in the following graphs, the survey
responses speak powerfully to the problems
and limitations of civil assessments. They
demonstrate that, for many Californians,
paying off civil assessments comes at the
expense of their everyday needs—rent, food,
and utilities. The data also provides insight
into why the civil assessment largely fails to
deter failures to appear and pay, showing that
by and large people are unaware of the civil
assessment and that circumstances beyond
their control interfere with their ability to
attend court or make their payments.

Civil Assessments Harm Californians
The new data collected for this report show the
stark consequences of the state’s civil assessment policy. Of those surveyed, 68 percent
could not afford to pay the $300 hidden fee.
When faced with paying the civil assessment,

86 percent said they were concerned about
their ability to pay for food, 75 percent said
utilities, and 65 percent said rent. For the many
who can’t afford to pay, civil assessments
are a source of debt, instability, and anxiety.

Paying a Civil Assessment Would Interfere with Respondents’
Ability to Pay for Necessities
65%

Rent
Need
Respondent
Is Concerned
About Paying

75%

Utilities

86%

Food
0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

% of Survey Respondents

9

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

Three hundred dollars is so out of reach for
many low-income people that charging them
does nothing to influence their decision-making on whether to attend court or pay the fine

“

“Having to pay this late fee will take away
my ability to provide food for myself for
almost a month or it will cut into my ability to
afford gas/transportation to get to work.”

upfront—instead, the steep fee coupled with
other fines and fees simply debilitates those
unable to pay, with disastrous consequences for
their lives. Given the precarity of so many Californians’ finances, a $300 or $600 fee on top of
the original ticket is bound to cause economic
instability, with no proven public benefit.
The civil assessment operates as a regressive tax and prevents people from being able
to move on with their lives after interacting
with the criminal legal system, and entrenching people further into poverty.

“Paying this late fee would mean that I have
to choose between paying off this fee or
paying rent.”

Civil assessment debt can lead to aggressive collection tactics. People burdened by
these $300 hidden fees may be pursued or
harassed by a private collections agency.
They may find their bank accounts levied,
their tax refunds intercepted, and their
wages garnished. For many Californians,
already living on the brink of poverty, such
collection tactics can push people into
financial instability or ruin.

“This fee has prevented me from being able
to even address this ticket or get it removed
from my record. It is an astronomical amount
of money for someone who does not have a
surplus of income in an already costly state
to live in.”

Civil Assessments Do Not Promote
Timely Payments or Appearances
Civil assessments are often touted as a
tool to encourage people to appear in court
or pay on time. However, most people are
unaware of civil assessments: 73 percent
of all survey respondents did not know that
they could be charged a $300 late fee for
missing a payment deadline or court appearance.29 In fact, 42 percent of those who had
already been charged a civil assessment
did not know they had received a late fee in
their case. Given that most people are uninformed about the civil assessment, including
those who have had recent tickets, it cannot
reasonably be argued that civil assessments
play an important role in producing court
appearances and timely payments.
10

42%
of respondents with civil assessments,
did not know they had received them.

73%
of respondents did not know they
could be charged a $300 assessment
for missing a court appearance or
payment deadline.

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

“

“Tacking more money onto my bill
doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make it
easier for me to pay. It makes it harder.”
– STEPHANIE JEFFCOAT
For those close to the process, it is of little
surprise that Californians are largely ignorant
about the existence of this $300 hidden fee.
As one California court official said: “Show me
the person who reads the fine print and understands they’ll be charged the $300 civil assessment if they don’t pay or miss their court
date. It’s archaic; no one knows about it.”
It is not just that the threat of a civil assessment may not produce the intended results, it’s
that the imposition of civil assessments may
reduce the likelihood that the Court will ever
collect the relevant debts. Adding an additional
monetary penalty like a civil assessment does
not make one more likely to pay but rather
makes it even less likely that they can.
Civil assessments are harsh and ineffective
responses to inability to pay because they
impose additional debt on those who are in no
position to pay the original balance.
The same is true for appearances in court.
First, civil assessments as punishment for
“failure to appear” are a red herring. More than
80 percent of civil assessments are given in
traffic court, where people are not required to
appear.30 The only reasons to appear are to
voluntarily challenge the basis of the ticket,
or explain why you cannot pay. For someone
who cannot afford to pay a traffic citation,
showing up in court to explain why is likely
to be an expensive, logistically difficult, and
fruitless experience. As one Judicial Council
report recognized, “Traveling to the courthouse during business hours can be a[]
burden for [people], who often must leave
work or family duties.”31

11

Survey responses make clear that limited
money and resources are the primary reasons
that people do not respond to a citation. Lack
of transportation stands out as an especially
common reason for being unable to appear
in lieu of payment–being unable to pay the
citation often means being unable to pay for
transportation. And unemployment and lack of
income are given as explanations for a large
proportion of failures to pay. When asked
why they had failed to appear or pay, one
respondent said, “Not able to appear or pay
because no money or transportation.” This
same sentiment was reflected in numerous
responses. Another common refrain was
lack of notice about deadlines and appearance options, especially amongst those with
unstable housing. Expressing a point made
by many others, one respondent explained
that they could not pay or appear because
they “did not have [a] permanent household
to receive mail (experiencing homelesness).”
Other people did not schedule court appearances when they could not pay because they
were simply too scared about the punishments
they would face in court, like the respondent
who answered, “Nervous to appear in court,
afraid of possible consequences.”

Most people who get civil assessments
have low incomes. DMV data from 2016
shows that people who did not pay or appear
on a citation were concentrated in California’s
lowest-income zip codes. 92% of the zip codes
with above-average non-payment/non-appearance rates also had household income levels
lower than the average.35
The correlation is even more significant for
race: 95 percent of the 75 zip codes with
a percentage of Black residents above
20 percent had an above-average rate
of consequences for not appearing or
paying a ticket.36

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

It is counterproductive to punish inability to
pay or appear with further financial obligations.32 Contrary to the personal accountability framework that contributed to so many
anti Black policies in past decades, studies
show that most people want to honor their
obligations, and do so when they can.33
For people who have the money to pay the
citation by the deadline, none of these concerns

are relevant—they never have to go to court,
never get the $300 hidden fee, and never have
to stress about spiraling debts, wage garnishment, tax intercept, or bank levy resulting from
one traffic stop. The current system is premised
on much stricter consequences for people who
do not have money, which is not how our justice
system should work.34

Civil Assessments Disproportionately
Affect Black and Brown Californians
Data reveals stark racial disparities in California law enforcement targets for traffic
stops.37 Black and Brown Californians are
more likely to be pulled over38 and therefore
more likely to be ticketed.39 One California
study found that Black people made up
just 7 percent of the population but over 16
percent of all stops.40 Searches of Black and
Brown drivers are less likely to lead to the
discovery of contraband than are searches of
white drivers.41 As compared with traffic stops
of white drivers, stops of Black and Brown
drivers are more likely to result in citations
for non-observable offenses, suggesting that
law enforcement more frequently lacked good
cause to stop Black and Brown drivers.42 In
fact, traffic stops of Black drivers are more
likely to lead to any kind of citation. In a 2022
study, 31 percent of drivers perceived to be
Black—the highest of any racial group—had
an action taken against them at a traffic
stop, i.e., instead of a warning, they got a
ticket.43 Specifically, though officers stopped
445,412 more white drivers than Black
drivers, officers took action against 9,431
more Black drivers than white drivers.44 All of
this suggests that racial bias, rather than behavioral differences, is to blame for the disproportionate number of stops and citations
targeting Californians of color.

12

These numbers are similar for non-traffic
infractions, the tickets heard in traffic court
that do not involve driving, like jaywalking
or loitering. The Lawyers’ Committee for
Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
reviewed45 over 250,000 non-traffic citations
issued in 2020 across the state and found
that Black Californians are 9.7 times more
likely to receive a citation for an infraction
than white Californians, whereas Latinx Californians are more than 5.8 times more likely.
Racially skewed infraction enforcement in
turn produces a racially skewed demography
of civil assessments. While data specifically
detailing the race and ethnicity of people who
receive civil assessments has not been made
available, there is data about the racial demographics of those receiving other punishments for not paying or appearing on a traffic
ticket. One such punishment is license suspensions, which are still frequently imposed
along with civil assessments for failure to
appear. A prior study—conducted when California still allowed license suspensions for
failure to pay— found that the percentage of
Black residents living in a California zip code
is positively correlated with the zip code’s rate
of license suspension due to failure to appear
or pay.46 Bench warrants are another punishment sometimes used to address failure to

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

pay or appear. Data from one county shows
that, though Black people only make up 5.8
percent of the local population, 48.7 percent
of those arrested for “failure to appear or pay”
traffic court warrants are Black. Given the
highly unequal distribution of license suspensions and bench warrants, it is safe to
assume that civil assessments are also
imposed in largely unequal ways.
It should come as no surprise that a fee
created to punish people who cannot afford
to pay their balance or get to court would be
imposed disproportionately against low-income people. Though data on the distribution
of civil assessments to people of different
income levels has not been made available,

When
Fatemah
FATEMEH
just
MEHRABAN was
19 years
old, she
was pulled over by California Highway
Patrol (CHP) officers in Sacramento and
issued two citations. Like so many other
Californians, Fatemeh was unable to pay for
her tickets. As a result, she was subjected
to $600 in hidden fees, bringing her total
balance to over $1,800. As a full-time
student, working nights and weekends at her
family’s grocery store, she had no way to
piece together that kind of money.
However, Fatemeh still went to court hopeful
that she could deal with her citations and
pleaded with the judge for relief, but instead
was only given the option to do hours of
community service for the Sheriff’s Department. The stress of completing her hours
under the court’s strict deadlines, while
being a full-time student and part-time
employee, caused Fatemeh to experience a
mental health breakdown.

13

the data on license suspensions confirms that
punishments for failure to pay and appear
predominantly affect lower-income people.47
The license suspension study referenced
above found that the proportion of a zip code
that is low-income is positively correlated with
the rate of license suspensions for failure to
pay and appear in that zip code.48 It is thus
extremely likely that civil assessments impact
low-income people at higher rates than those
who are more affluent. It almost goes without
saying that those who have the money to
quickly pay their tickets online are far better
situated to avoid a $300 hidden fee than
those who lack the resources to pay.

Because she was unable to complete her
community service hours, her full debt
balance was reinstated. Fatemeh took an
additional part-time job to help pay off the
debt, but the new job caused her to lose
her Medi-Cal coverage. As a result, she
lost access to her therapist and her needed
medications. Not long after, she dropped out
of college. She has not been able to return to
school since then or fully restore her mental
health.
Five years since Fatemeh was pulled over
by CHP, the tickets and their accompanying
debt still reverberate in her life. Long after
she addressed the issues giving rise to the
tickets, the burdens of court-debt remained
with her, affecting her wallet and general
well-being. Like so many other Californians,
she encountered a toxic mix of expensive
fines, inadequate payment options, and
$600 in hidden fees. For her, the effects
have yet to wear off.

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

Civil Assessments Pose a Conflict of
Interest for Courts

e _ _ _ __
After the successes of the civil rights
movement, throughout the “tough on crime”
era in the 1980s and 1990s, states across
the country adopted policies that increased
criminalization of Black and Brown people.49
In California, these policies—like the
draconian Three Strikes law—increased California’s prison population by 225 percent,
and created a fiscal crisis for California
superior courts in the 1990s.50 The California
Legislature responded by creating the civil
assessment.51 The civil assessment was
created to raise funds for increased incarceration of the people most likely to be policed.
Civil assessments pose a conflict of
interest for courts. While courts must
turn some civil assessment revenue over
to the state and county,52 a significant
portion of the revenue remains in their
own accounts.53 Courts are both imposing
civil assessments and directly benefiting
from the revenue they generate.
In fiscal year 2019-20, courts collectively
received more than $96 million in revenue
from civil assessments.54 More than $54
million of those collections were retained by
the courts.55 This revenue often constitutes
a substantial portion of the court’s annual
budget. For instance, in Riverside County, in
FY 2020-21, the Court collected $9.4 million
of civil assessments and retained $6.9
million of those collections as revenue.56
This amounted to 13.9% of the Court’s
annual revenue.
Civil assessment revenues can be, and
often are, spent on judicial salaries and
benefits.57 This means that the same judges
who decide when to impose a civil assessment and how much to charge can benefit
directly from the revenue these hiddens
14

fees generate. The influence of this fiscal
pressure is not often public, but court administrative documents are revealing. In notes
received in response to a Public Records
Act request, from a Riverside County Court
meeting, the Court’s Chief Executive Officer
recommended imposing civil assessments in
more cases “to increase revenue.”58
This conflict of interest may be unlawful.
Local low-income residents and non-profit
groups sued San Mateo County Superior
Court in early 2022 for illegally imposing
civil assessments, and several other California courts have received threats of similar
lawsuits.60 Federal courts have found that
similar funding schemes in other states
violate Due Process. In a seminal case
called Tumey v. State of Ohio, the U.S.
Supreme Court announced that it violates a
defendant’s due process rights when a judge
“has a direct, personal, substantial pecuniary
interest in reaching a conclusion against”
the defendant.61 In Tumey, the judge stood
to derive a financial benefit from the fine
he imposed on the criminal defendant. The
Court ruled for the defendant because of the
improper incentives this revenue scheme
created.
More recently, the Fifth Circuit found that
the fines and fees practices of the Orleans
Parish Criminal District Court (OPCDC) gave
rise to just such an unconstitutional conflict
of interest. The New Orleans judges would
assess fees and their salaries increased
as a result.62 The Fifth Circuit ruled that the
fines and fees structure could not stand
because it gave rise to improper incentives.
At the very least, California’s current funding
scheme has the appearance of impropriety.63
A process by which judges can increase

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

What happens when courts get to keep
the money they assess?

the court’s revenues by imposing heftier
late fees on unsuspecting individuals is
bound to undermine confidence in the impartiality of the justice system. Additionally,
there is reason to believe that this perverse
incentive structure is actually shaping court
practices. Though the statutory language of
Penal Code section 1214.1 prescribes that
civil assessments be “up to $300,” almost
across the board, courts impose the full
$300 against every eligible defendant. Of the
40 California courts that responded to public
records requests, 35 courts sent documents
showing that the civil assessment was, by
default, set at $300. If courts benefit directly
from the imposition of higher late fees,
they have motivation to assess fees at the
maximum, even when a lower fee would be

Solano County Superior Court was sued for
punishing people for not being able to pay
traffic citations by suspending their driver’s
licenses. In the 2017 settlement of the case,
the court agreed to reduce or eliminate
fines and fees for people with low incomes.
However, 18 months after the new ability-to-pay process was implemented, data
showed that even in cases where the court
explicitly decided that the person could not
afford to pay, and it forgave and reduced
all other fines and fees (that the courts do
not keep), it still imposed the full $300 civil
assessment in 97% of cases.59

Thirty-four-year
SALENA old caregiver
and CalWorks
SILVA
recipient Salena
Silva lives in San
Lorenzo with her thirteen-year-old son. While
taking care of her family, living in a van
outside of her brother’s house, and looking
for housing, she has also been saddled with
nearly $5,000 in traffic fines and fees.

Q

In 2009, Salena received a ticket for open
container. When she couldn’t pay the
citation, she was charged a $300 late fee
— yet another bill she couldn’t afford. This
debt increased over the next decade, during
which she received four other citations,
each with late fees that amounted to more
than $1,500. The fees loomed over her life,
causing anxiety and stress while she was

15

already struggling to pay for day-to-day
costs like gas and food.
“They were trying to take all of this money
away from us, but we didn’t have any in the
first place.”
Moreover, she wasn’t able to obtain a
driver’s license because she couldn’t pay off
her tickets. Only when she contacted legal
advocates could her tickets be dismissed
and, finally, after thirteen years, was she
eligible for a license.
Salena wishes that there had been more
reminders to pay so she could have avoided
at least some of the civil assessments, which
doubled or tripled the base fine amounts.
“Being notified would have been helpful.”

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

V

16

Riverside Superior Court

San Francisco Superior Court

Humboldt Superior Court

Maybe 15%

Yes 17%

No 68%

Can you afford your late fee?

court budget.65 In Humboldt County, the
annual collection rate is 8 percent.66 Such
low rates are not the result of lax collection
efforts but rather because most people who
are ordered to pay civil assessments cannot
afford to pay. Amongst survey respondents,
68 percent indicated that they cannot afford
to pay $300; the percentage of people who
cannot pay the original fines and fees plus
$300 or $600 in hidden fees is surely higher.

Most Civil Assessments are Uncollectible–
People Simply Cannot Afford to Pay Them

67

68

69

years, revenue from civil assessments has
decreased by 36 percent.
Further, a 2016 report on fines and fees,
including the civil assessment, from the
Legislative Analyst’s Office similarly found
that “a large portion of this balance may
not be collectable as the costs of collection could outweigh the amount that would
actually be collected.”75 Taking into account
the amount of civil assessments and the
Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

In 2005, the Legislature increased the civil
assessment from $250 to $300 to help
“offset the decrease in undesignated fees
going to courts.”70 Yet data from the last few
years show that revenue has decreased
over time, as citations for traffic violations
have decreased.71 In fiscal year 2016-17,
$110 million was collected in civil assessments.72 By 2018-19, it had decreased to
$95 million;73 and by 2020-21 it had again
fallen to $70 million.74 Over the last five

8%

13.5%

20%

Courts across the state report extremely
low collection rates for civil assessments

Courts annually charge people hundreds of
millions of dollars in civil assessments. Yet,
they recover only a small proportion of what
they charge. For example, data from San
Francisco County Superior Court indicates
that the Court’s collection rate for civil assessments in criminal court is just 13.5
percent.64 Documents from the Riverside
County Superior Court show that administrators assume a 20 percent collection rate
on civil assessments when formulating the

a

time and resources spent trying to collect
such assessments annually, most courts
generate relatively little net revenue. Courts
maintain staffing and infrastructure to allow
for the imposition of civil assessments and
collection processes, which includes fiscal
obligations such as salaries, benefits, and
non-personnel costs. For example, in fiscal
year 2020-21, collectively courts across the
state spent $20.1 million trying to collect
$69.9 million in civil assessments.76 Essentially nearly 30 percent of all civil assessment revenue went toward collection efforts,
with a low percentage of return.

0

Proven Front-End Tools Make It Easier For
People to Resolve Tickets

Existing research shows that alternatives
to the civil assessment are equally or more
effective at generating timely court appearances and payments. After the San
Francisco County Superior Court stopped
imposing driver’s license suspensions for
failure to appear, it actually saw an decrease
in delinquent debt per filing. The Court
has found that “commonsense collections
practices, rather than reliance on extreme
penalties like driver’s license suspensions,
are more likely to aid collections.”78 The
same principles apply to civil assessments.
Data collected in New York City criminal courts
reinforces this: there, researchers found that
clarifying changes to the court summons form
reduced failures to appear by 13 percent, and
that text message reminders reduced failures
to appear by 26 percent.79 And there is reason
to believe that Californians would welcome the
introduction of text message reminders in their
traffic courts. When asked what actions the
court could take to help people resolve their
tickets on-time, 44 percent of survey respondents requested that the courts provide text
reminders before hearings and deadlines.
17

There is no data on the complete amount of
outstanding civil assessment debt owed to the
courts. This is a result of the fact that many
Superior Courts have no record of the civil assessment debts they are owed. When asked to
provide such a figure, multiple courts indicated
that they had “no responsive records.”77 Debts
that are not being tracked almost certainly
will not be collected. Courts are thus keeping
80 percent of the approximately half a million
Californians with civil assessments under
the threat and stress of debts that the courts
are neither tracking nor relying upon.

Courts need not develop new practices
before eliminating the civil assessment. They
already have other tools at their disposal
to encourage court appearances and
payments. In response to non-appearance,
the courts have the authority to conduct
trials in absentia.80 This is how non-appearances are addressed in the civil context,
where there is no civil assessment and also
no other punishment for non-appearance.
People who do not appear in the civil context
typically lose the case by default, which is
a significant consequence and one already
available in the traffic courts.81 A defendant
being found guilty in absentia is no trivial
matter; a guilty verdict can lead to the imposition of fines, points on an individual’s
driving record, increased insurance costs,
and even suspension of a driver’s license in
certain circumstances.

44%
of survey respondents requested that
courts begin offering text reminders.

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

The courts also have numerous ways of addressing failure to pay. They can engage a
collection agency to try to recover the funds or
can refer the case to the Franchise Tax Board,
which is authorized to use bank levies, contact
employers to issue wage garnishments, and

employ tax intercepts to collect court-imposed debt. With these aggressive collection
tools already on the table, the civil assessment
adds nothing but more of the debt that is
drowning many California families.

Recommendations
•E
 nd the civil assessment. It is punitive.
No data shows that it is effective for any
just purpose; in fact, most people do not
know it exists. Courts have a conflict of
interest, but still impose it. And it is causing
between 300,000 and 1 million Californians, each year, to struggle to pay for
food, rent, utilities, or transportation.
• Investigate common-sense process
improvements. Text reminders, clear
notices, alternatives to financial punishments; there is far more evidence supporting these best practices than our current
ineffective system of disincentives. In the
absence of common-sense practices,

courts are able to enrich themselves by
charging civil assessments at the expense
of low-income people of color.
• F
 und the courts without requiring them
to extract money from court users. Fair
and impartial courts are necessary now
more than ever. The Governor and the
legislature should allocate general fund
money directly to the courts as a backfill
for former civil assessment revenue. In the
interest of fully funding courts, this backfill
and reform is urgent in 2022, before civil
assessment revenue—and the funds
needed for sufficient court operations—
decline even further.

Conclusion
In 2022, California should not be relying on antiquated, back-end, extreme penalties
that drive poor people of color into debt. It is time to end civil assessments to advance
racial and economic equity, use commonsense policies driven by data rather than 1990s
biases, and end this clear conflict of interest.

18

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

Endnotes
Estimate based on total amount of civil assessment revenue collected in FY 2019–20 ($96,944,706) divided by the
typical cost of a civil assessment ($300). This is a conservative estimate because the annual revenue figure does not
reflect the many people who receive civil assessments, but are unable to pay them. Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022
Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount (in dollars) received by statewide accounts managed by the
California Judicial Council as a result of imposition and collection of civil assessments under Penal Code 1214.1, disaggregated by each statewide account.”; A: “FY 2019–20: $96,944,706.”).
2
Estimate based on the number of infractions issued each year (3.2 million) and the fact that, according to at least one
court, one in three infraction cases results in a civil assessment. See Judicial Council of California, 2021 COURT STATISTICS REPORT: STATEWIDE CASELOAD TRENDS 2010–11 THROUGH 2019–20 82 (2021), https://www.courts.
ca.gov/documents/2021-Court-Statistics-Report.pdf (reporting that 3.2 million infractions were issued in FY 2019–20).;
see also Anne Stuhldreher, California Needs to Get Rid of High Pain/Low Gain Court Fees, CALMATTERS (Aug. 18,
2021), https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/08/california-needs-to-get-rid-of-high-pain-low-gain-court-fees/ (“In San
Francisco, approximately one-third of people who got traffic tickets this year were hit with civil assessment fees.”).
3
Court records requests were sent to all 58 superior courts, asking for a wide range of documents related to civil
assessment policies and revenue dating from January 1, 2018 to November 18, 2021. The data received included a
variety of responsive documents, including instructions for setting civil assessments and sample notices, evincing the
rate at which the courts set their civil assessments.
4
Id.
5
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area et al., PAYING MORE FOR BEING POOR: BIAS AND
DISPARITY IN CALIFORNIA’S TRAFFIC COURT SYSTEM 5 (2017), https://lccrsf.org/wp-content/uploads/LCCR-Report-Paying-More-for-Being-Poor-May-2017-5.4.17.pdf; Robert Lewis, State Lifts Suspensions on Half a Million Driver’s
Licenses, CALMATTERS (Jan. 29, 2021), https://calmatters.org/justice/2021/01/california-drivers-licenses-traffic-ticket/.
6
Cal. Veh. Code § 42001(b) (“A pedestrian convicted of an infraction for a violation of this code or any local ordinance
adopted pursuant to this code shall be punished by a fine not exceeding fifty dollars ($50).”); Judicial Council of
California, UNIFORM BAIL & PENALTY SCHEDULES 12 (2021), available at https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/
UBPS-2021-Final.pdf (showing the base fine for jaywalking is $25 and the total bail is $197).Each vehicle code
violation has a base fine amount and a total bail amount. The total bail amount includes the base fine and a number of
state and county surcharges and fees.
7
FTA/FTP (Failure to Appear or Pay) Violations, THE SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, COUNTY OF SANTA
CLARA, https://www.scscourt.org/self_help/traffic/citation_types/fta_ftp.shtml (“Up to $600 in Civil Assessment fees
may be added to your case and your case may be referred for collection.”); Civil Assessment for Failure to Appear
or Failure to Pay Instruction and Information Sheet, THE SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, COUNTY OF
RIVERSIDE, https://www.riverside.courts.ca.gov/FormsFiling/LocalForms/ri-ots38.pdf (indicating that the Court may
add $300 for each failure to pay or appear, even on a single ticket).
8
Commission on the Future of California’s Court System, REPORT TO THE CHIEF JUSTICE 75 (2017), https://www.
courts.ca.gov/documents/futures-commission-final-report.pdf.
9
2021 COURT STATISTICS REPORT, supra note 2, at 82 (specifically, at FY 2020, combination of traffic and nontraffic
infractions).
10
Stuhldreher, supra note 2 (“In San Francisco, approximately one-third of people who got traffic tickets this year were
hit with civil assessment fees.”).
11
Fla. Stat. § 28.246(6); Fla. Stat. § 318.18(8)(a).
12
Del. Code Ann. tit. 21, §4101(d)(3).
13
L
 ate Payments – Notice to Defendants, HARRIS COUNTY JUSTICE COURTS, http://jp.hctx.net/info/payments.
htm; Fines and Fees Information, CITY OF HOUSTON, TEXAS, MUNICIPAL COURTS DEPARTMENT, https://www.
houstontx.gov/courts/fine_and_fees.html.
14
Alexandria White, Don’t Make the Costly Mistake of Paying Late: Credit Card Late Fees May Rise to $40 in 2020,
CNBC SELECT (Feb. 7, 2022), https://www.cnbc.com/select/credit-card-late-fees-may-rise-in-2020/.
15
See UNIFORM BAIL AND PENALTY SCHEDULES, supra note 6, at 14.
16
Del. Code Ann. tit. 21, § 4101(d).
17
Fees and Fines, N.H. DEP’T SAFETY DIVISION MOTOR VEHICLES, https://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/dmv/financial-responsibility/fees-fines.htm.
18
L
 ate Payments – Notice to Defendants, HARRIS COUNTY JUSTICE COURTS, http://jp.hctx.net/info/payments.htm.
19
Fla. Stat. § 28.246(6); Fla. Stat. § 318.18(8)(a); FLORIDA COURT CLERKS & COMPTROLLERS, DISTRIBUTION
SCHEDULE OF COURT-RELATED FILING FEES, SERVICE CHARGES, COSTS AND FINES, INCLUDING A FEE
SCHEDULE FOR RECORDING 39 (2021), https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.flclerks.com/resource/resmgr/advisories/advisories_2021/21bull127_Attach_1_REVISED_2.pdf.
1

19

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

UTAH JUDICIAL COUNCIL, 2021 UNIFORM FINE SCHEDULE 1 (2021), https://www.utcourts.gov/rules/appendices/
Appendix_C/Uniform_Fine_Schedule.pdf.
21
Cal. Penal Code § 1214.1.
22
Id.; N.H. DEP’T SAFETY, UNIFORM FINE SCHEDULE - NOTICE OF FINE 2 (2019), https://www.nh.gov/safety/
divisions/dmv/forms/documents/dsmv428.pdf.
23
Id.; Sample Traffic Cases: Fines, Costs and Statutory Assessments, DELAWARE COURTS, https://courts.delaware.
gov/help/traffic/SampleTrafficCaseFinesCostsAndAssessments.pdf. This total was calculated by adding the late fee
($30) and the additional fees ($146.80) to the base fine for the violation ($110).
24
Id.; Information about Traffic Cases, HARRISON COUNTY JUSTICE COURTS, http://www.jp.hctx.net/traffic/MovingFines.htm ( specifically the row titled “Ran Stop Sign or Red Light”).
25
Id.; Id. at 6, 29. This total was calculated by adding a statutorily-required surcharge (35%) to the suggested fine
amount ($130) and then adding the late fee ($125). See id.
26
Fla. Stat. § 318.18(15); Fla. Stat. § 28.246(6); Fla. Stat. § 318.18(8)(a); FLORIDA COURT CLERKS & COMPTROLLERS, supra note 18, at 26. This total was calculated by adding the late fee ($118.40) and the additional fees ($95) to
the base fine ($158).
27
Id.; UNIFORM BAIL AND PENALTY SCHEDULES, supra note 6, at 9.
28
Survey questions and results are on file with the authors and can be provided upon request.
29
This figure was calculated using data collected through two surveys, one administered online and one administered
in-person. On the online version, the relevant question was: “Did you know that the fee charged for failing to appear
in court or missing a payment deadline is usually $300?” On the in-person version, the relevant question was: “Before
coming to court today, did you know HOW MUCH the fee for failing to appear in court or missing a payment deadline
would be?” The responses from the two surveys were aggregated and analyzed.
30
In FY 2019–20, 80% of all criminal filings in California superior courts were for traffic or non-traffic infractions. 2021
COURT STATISTICS REPORT, supra note 2, at 82 (in FY 2019–20, there were 4,054,484 criminal filings and
3,243,819 were for infractions). In traffic and non-traffic citations cases, the defendant is not required to appear in
court. Marin Superior Court, Traffic Court Frequently Asked Questions (accessed Feb. 15, 2022), https://www.marincourt.org/traffic_faq.htm (“The date at the bottom of your ticket is the ‘promise to appear’ date. It is not a court date
but rather a ‘due’ date to resolve the citation in some way, either by paying it or setting up a contested court date.”).
In addition to infraction cases making up a large proportion of overall criminal filings, it is also far more common
for traffic courts to use civil assessments than for criminal courts to do so. Criminal courts typically rely on bench
warrants rather than civil assessments. This means that 80% is a very conservative estimate; the percentage of civil
assessments that are issued in cases that do not require court appearance is probably much higher.
31
REPORT TO THE CHIEF JUSTICE, supra note 8, at 217 (2017); see also Financial Justice Project, DRIVING
TOWARD JUSTICE 8 (2020), https://sfgov.org/financialjustice/sites/default/files/2020-04/DrivingTowardJustice.pdf.
32
See Financial Justice Project, ADVANCING FINANCIAL JUSTICE IN SAN FRANCISCO; THE EXPERIENCE AND
LESSONS OF THE CITY’S FINANCIAL JUSTICE PROJECT 33 (2020), https://sfgov.org/financialjustice/sites/default/
files/2020-05/Advancing%20Financial%20Justice.pdf (“Extreme penalties for nonpayment can push low-income people
deeper into poverty and are often counterproductive collections tools”); see also Carl Formoso, Determining the Composition and Collectibility of Child Support Arrearages, WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH
SERVICES (May 2003), https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ESA/dcs/documents/cvol1prn.pdf. (“For low earners
when obligation is set too high relative to earnings collections are going to be difficult, if at all possible.”).
33
Minoff, Elisa, The Racist Roots of Work Requirements, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF SOCIAL POLICY 4–5 (Feb. 2020),
https://cssp.org/ resource/racist-roots-of-work-requirements/ (discussing how long-standing racist narratives about Black
Americans and personal responsibility have worked to shape government policy); Beth A. Colgan, Graduating Economic
Sanctions According to Ability to Pay, 103 IOWA L. REV. 53, 65 (2017) (profiling the academic literature on why people may
be willing to pay more of their court debt if their outstanding balance is set at an amount that they can afford).
34 
Amy Yarbrough, Chief justice laments historic cuts to California court system, CALIFORNIA BAR JOURNAL (April
2013), https://www.calbarjournal.com/April2013/TopHeadlines/TH2.aspx (Quoting Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
as saying, “All of us are concerned that the higher fines and higher penalties are falling on those least able to afford it .
. . I worry that California is on the wrong side of history in funding justice.”).
35
In 2016, the DMV still suspended licenses for not paying or appearing on a citation, and issued civil assessments in the
same cases. This data tracked the license suspensions by zip code and compared to income data. Lawyer’s Committee
for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area et al., STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED: RACIAL BIAS IN POLICING AND
TRAFFIC COURTS IN CALIFORNIA 7 (2016), https://lccrsf.org/wp-content/uploads/Stopped_Fined_Arrested_BOTRCA.
pdf; see also Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, INTERACTIVE MAP OF INFRACTION
HOTSPOTS IN LOS ANGELES, SAN DIEGO, AND LONG BEACH, https://lccrsf.org/infractions/.
36
STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED, supra note 35, at 8.
20

20

Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty

STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED, supra note 35, at 4 (“Black and Latino drivers are pulled over more often by police, and
White drivers are pulled over less, each at rates that are disproportionate to their shares of the population.”).
38
Magnus Lofstrom, African Americans Are Notably Overrepresented in Police Stops, Public Policy Institute of California,
PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA (Aug. 13, 2020), https://www.ppic.org/blog/african-americans-are-notably-overrepresented-in-police-stops/ (“While African Americans make up roughly 6% of the population in the above jurisdictions, they made up slightly more than 15% of all stops.”).
39
STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED, supra note 35, at 21 (“When certain groups are implicitly or explicitly targeted for traffic
and other investigatory stops, those groups are also disproportionately issued citations.”).
40
Lofstrom, supra note 38 (“While African Americans make up roughly 6% of the population in the above jurisdictions, they
made up slightly more than 15% of all stops.”).
41
STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED, supra note 35, at 42 (discussing data from Los Angeles and San Diego counties showing
that, despite disproportionate stops, searches of Black and Brown drivers were less likely to result in findings of contraband
materials).
42
STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED, supra note 35, at 4; see also ACLU of Northern California and American Friends Service
Committee, CHP RECORDS REVEAL A PATTERN OF STOPPING LATINOS TO IMPOUND VEHICLES 4–8 (Aug. 2014),
https://www.aclunc.org/sites/default/files/caruthers_chp_case_study.pdf.
43
Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board, ANNUAL REPORT 2022, 38 (2022), https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/media/
ripa-board-report-2022.pdf.
44
Id.
45
Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area et al., CITED FOR BEING IN PLAIN SIGHT: HOW
CALIFORNIA POLICES BEING BLACK, BROWN, AND UNHOUSED IN PUBLIC 5 (2020), https://lccrsf.org/wp-content/
uploads/2020/09/LCCR_CA_Infraction_report_4WEB-1.pdf.
46
STOPPED, FINED, ARRESTED, supra note 35, at 8.
47
Id. at 7.
48
Id.
49
Michelle Alexander, THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS 56 (2012);
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, GOLDEN GULAG: PRISONS, SURPLUS, CRISIS, AND OPPOSITION IN GLOBALIZING CALIFORNIA 107–113 (2007) (describing California legislative initiatives that “produced a remarkable racial and ethnic shift in
the prison population.”); Brian Brown & Greg Jolivette, Cal. Legis. Analyst’s Off., A Primer: Three Strikes - The Impact after
More than a Decade (Oct. 2005), https://lao.ca.gov/2005/3_strikes/3_strikes_102005.htm#:~:text=Since%20its%20implementation%2C%20the%20Three,time%20and%20have%20been%20released, (identifying that between 1994 and 2004
California sent “80,000 second strikers and 7,500 third strikers to state prison” and noting that Black people “ma[d]e up 45
percent of the third striker population, which is 15 percent higher than in the total prison population”).
50 
Judicial Council of California, LEGISLATIVE BRIEFING ON TRIAL COURT FUNDING 21 (1997) https://www.courts.ca.gov/
partners/documents/TCFWG11-February1997LegislativeBriefingonTrialCourtFunding.pdf (“In addition to the quantitative growth in demand for trial court services, three strikes law, increased prosecution of felonies, increased caseloads
in juvenile and family law, and ever-greater complexity in civil cases […] have caused a significant qualitative growth in
demand for court services”); Chief Justice Ronald M. George, The Road to Independence: A History of Trial Court Funding,
Cal. Cts. Rev., at 4 (Winter 2009), https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/CCR_09Winter.pdf. (In 1996, the state judiciary
had called attention to “problems [with funding] so severe” as to require “emergency funding from the Legislature to assist
several courts facing imminent closure, a breakdown in basic services to the public, and severe layoffs of employees.”).
51
Legis. Counsel’s Dig., Assem. Bill No. 1346 (1995-1996 Reg. Sess.); Assem. Com. On Public Safety, Analysis on Assem.
Bill No. 1346 (1995-1996 Reg. Sess.) (celebrating San Diego Superior Court’s ability to “raise[] [$]4.2 million revenue in one
year” through civil assessments); see also Stats. 1996, ch. 217, § 2 (noting that the statute would take immediate effect “[i]n
order to ease the fiscal crises” faced by the courts).
52
Cal. Penal Code § 1214.1(a).
53
Cal. Gov’t Code § 68085(a).
54
Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022 Response to Court Records Request, supra note 1.
55
Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022 Response to Court Records Request (Q: The amount (in dollars) of civil assessments
revenue the California Judicial Council distributed to counties each year, disaggregated by county; A: FY 2019–20 $54,021,388).
56
Judicial Council of California, QUARTERLY REPORT OF REVENUES - SUPERIOR COURT OF RIVERSIDE Q4
2020–21, https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/ROR-20-21-Q4-RIVERSIDE.pdf.
57
Kern Superior Court’s Oct. 27, 2021 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount of money that the Court has
received as a result of imposition of civil assessments under Penal Code 1214.1, and how such money is to be spent”; A:
“The use of civil assessment revenue is not statutorily defined, but is generally used to offset salaries and benefits
related to the time spent on the case due to the failure to appear or failure to pay.”).
37

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Riverside Superior Court’s Response to Court Records Request sent on June 12, 2015 by Theresa Zhen at a New
Way of Life (Superior Court Executive Committee Meeting Agenda, Feb. 5, 2010).
59 
Settlement monitoring data on file with authors at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
60
Maria Dinezo, California court sued for charging ‘hidden tax’ on the poor, COURTHOUSE NEWS (Jan. 27, 2022),
https://www.courthousenews.com/california-court-sued-for-charging-hidden-tax-on-the-poor/.
61
Tumey v. State of Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 523 (1927).
62
Cain v. White, 937 F.3d 446 (5th Cir. 2019).
63
Judicial Council of California, TRIAL COURT BUDGET ADVISORY COMMITTEE MATERIALS FOR APRIL 30, 2020,
https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/tcbac-20200430-materials.pdf (The Judicial Council Trial Court Budget Advisory
Committee acknowledged the conflict-of-interest problem built into the current trial court funding scheme when it
proposed changes to the current funding system to reduce the “perceived conflict of interest”).
64 
Financial Justice Project, CRIMINAL JUSTICE ADMINISTRATIVE FEES: HIGH PAIN FOR PEOPLE, LOW GAIN FOR
GOVERNMENT 23 (2019) (Data collected from the SF Superior Court covering January 2012 through November
2017 shows that the Court collected just $456,995 of the $3,844,835 of outstanding criminal court civil assessments.).
65
Riverside Superior Court’s Response to Court Records Request sent on June 12, 2015 by Theresa Zhen at a New
Way of Life (Superior Court Executive Committee Meeting Agenda, Feb. 5, 2010).
66
Humboldt Superior Court’s Dec. 13, 2021 Response to Court Records Request (Q: The percentage of outstanding civil assessment debt that is successfully recovered by the Court each year [the collection rate] and the Court’s
formula for calculating the collection rate; A: 8% [total payments/total imposed]).
67
Riverside Superior Court’s Response to Court Records Request sent on June 12, 2015, supra note 65.
68
CRIMINAL JUSTICE ADMINISTRATIVE FEES, supra note 64, at 23 (2019) (Data collected from the SF Superior
Court covering January 2012 through November 2017 shows that the Court collected just $456,995 of the $3,844,835
of outstanding criminal court civil assessments.).
69
Humboldt Superior Court’s Dec. 13, 2021 Response, supra note 66.
70
AB 139, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=200520060AB139.
71
2021 COURT STATISTICS REPORT, supra note 2, at 52 (showing clear downward trends in traffic and nontraffic
citations over the course of the last decade).
72
Judicial Council’s Aug. 28, 2017 Letter to the Legislature, 18-month Statewide Infraction Amnesty Program, as
required under Vehicle Code section 42008.8, at 8, https://www.counties.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/
statewide_traffic_amnesty_report_to_legislature.pdf.
73
Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount (in dollars) received by statewide
accounts managed by the California Judicial Council as a result of imposition and collection of civil assessments
under Penal Code 1214.1, disaggregated by each statewide account.”; A: “FY 2018–19: $95,347,451.99.”).
74
Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount (in dollars) received by
statewide accounts managed by the California Judicial Council as a result of imposition and collection of civil assessments under Penal Code 1214.1, disaggregated by each statewide account.”; A: “FY 2018–19: $69,887,485.29.”).
75
Legislative Analyst Office, IMPROVING CALIFORNIA’S CRIMINAL FINE AND FEE SYSTEM 8 (Jan. 2016), https://
lao.ca.gov/reports/2016/3322/criminal-fine-and-fee-system-010516.pdf.
76
Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount (in dollars) superior courts spent
on collections of civil assessments, disaggregated by superior court. ”; A: “FY 2018–19: $69,887,485.29, FY 2020–21:
$20,121,657.143.”); Judicial Council’s Dec. 1, 2022 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount (in dollars)
received by statewide accounts managed by the California Judicial Council as a result of imposition and collection of civil
assessments under Penal Code 1214.1, disaggregated by each statewide account.”; A: “FY 2018–19: $69,887,485.29.”).
77
San Mateo Superior Court’s Oct. 29, 2021 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount of money currently
owed to the Court as a result of the imposition of civil assessments under Penal Code 1214.1.”; A: “The Court has
no records”); Placer Superior Court’s Dec. 10, 2021 Response to Court Records Request (Q: “The amount of money
currently owed to the Court as a result of the imposition of civil assessments under Penal Code 1214.1.”; A: “the court
does not have responsive judicial administrative records.”).
78
DRIVING TOWARD JUSTICE, supra note 31, at 1.
79
Brice Cook, et al., USING BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE TO IMPROVE CRIMINAL JUSTICE OUTCOMES: PREVENTING FAILURES TO APPEAR IN COURT 15–16 (Jan. 2018), https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/
uploads/2018/01/crim-just-report.pdf.
80
Cal. Veh. Code § 40903.
81
Id. Some due process reforms may be needed for fairer administration of this type of trial in absentia, to bring them
more in line with the civil process more appropriate for these minor citations.
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