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Criminal court costs are collected from people who are convicted of a crime or receive a deferred dismissal of the criminal charge(s) against them (for more information on court costs and deferred dismissals, see Deferred Dispositions and Court Costs). These costs are supposedly imposed to recoup the money the courts are spending to process a criminal case and are not meant to be for punishment or rehabilitation. They are assessed for each individual charge ending in conviction or deferred dismissal, so one case where someone is facing multiple charges could carry multiple sets of court costs, and they do not expire for 30 years in General District Court or 60 years in Circuit Court. 

Criminal court costs do not include costs of treatment or other programs, such as through Community Service Boards.  They also do not include fines, restitution, or prison fees. Court costs often add up to much higher than a fine (for example, a person may receive a $50 fine for a traffic conviction and owe an additional $209 in court costs).  

What types of court costs are assessed?

Mandatory. There are mandatory (“fixed”) fees based on the level of the charge. The felony fee is $375 (§ 17.1-275.1), the misdemeanor drug fee is $296.50 (§ 17.1-275.8), the felony reduced to misdemeanor fee is $227 (§ 17.1-275.2), and the general misdemeanor fee is $61 (§ 16.1-69.48:1). There are also additional costs for certain types of charges, like various DUI and sex trafficking charges.  

Court-appointed counsel fee. Virginia law also allows people to reimburse the state for the cost of their court-appointed counsel, based on the level of the charge. The reimbursement fee for a misdemeanor is ≤ $120, for a misdemeanor in Circuit Court ≤ $158, and for more common felonies ≤ $445. For more information on the court-appointed counsel fee and the work LAJC is doing on this topic, see Court-appointed counsel fee

Other fees. Every misdemeanor and felony conviction comes with an “Internet Crimes Against Children” fee of $15, regardless of the type of crime. There are also optional fees courts can assess against people, like the courthouse security fee, which is up to $20. If you decide to take your case to trial in Circuit Court, and to have a jury, you will be charged (if convicted or otherwise subject to costs) $30 per day per juror to exercise that right.

Where do these costs go?

The mandatory misdemeanor and felony fees are divided into different funds, but generally the costs go to different places within the criminal legal system, like probation, expert witnesses, forensic science, and the criminal justice academy training. Other areas include courthouse construction and maintenance, the circuit court clerks, and the Commonwealth Attorneys. Interest on court costs goes to the Virginia Literary Fund.

How do these costs affect my charging outcome?

Deferred Dismissals. If court costs are made a condition of your deferred dismissal requirements, you may be convicted, if you do not pay the costs even if you complied with every other condition, like treatment or community service. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that costs can be a condition of a person’s deferred dismissal requirements. Smallwood v. Commonwealth, 300 Va. 426, 434-35 (2022). A court should conduct an ability –to– pay analysis to ensure a person does not end up with a conviction solely because they could not pay court costs. However, as of October 2022, many courts do not do that.

Probation. Payment of costs can be made a condition of probation or a suspended sentence, which means people can be kept on probation until they pay the costs if the court or prosecutor does not want them removed from probation. § 19.2-356 and § 19.2-305(c).

If payment is a condition of probation (which is not always the case), people can have their probation violated, and even revoked for not paying their court costs. If your felony probation or suspended sentence is revoked, you will be assessed another cost of $158, called the fixed felony revocation fee. § 17.1-275.3.

Incarceration. People who are incarcerated must also either pay court debt in full or enter a payment plan to participate in work release, ankle monitoring, or non-consecutive days. § 19.2-354(B). Those working while incarcerated will have a portion of their pay garnished toward their outstanding court debt, diminishing their available commissary money. § 53.1-45.1.

What else can happen if I don’t pay these costs on time?

Interest. You have 180 days from the date of sentencing, or date of release from custody, to set up a payment plan or pay the costs in full, before 6% annual interest starts to accrue. After the initial 180 days, even if you are on a payment plan, missing one payment will send the account into default and interest will accrue. § 19.2-353.5(B)-(C). For more information on interest, see Interest on Court Debt.

Payment Plans. When initially setting up a payment plan, a down payment cannot be required. However, if you default and then get back on a payment plan, the court can require a down payment after that point of either 5% or 10% of the amount owed, or $50, depending on how much is owed. § 19.2-354.1(I).

Collections. If you do not make a payment plan within 90 days, your account may be sent to a collections agency, increasing the amount you owe by up to 17%. § 19.2-349.  If it is sent to the local treasurer instead, the amount you owe will increase by up to 20%. See and § 58.1-3958. An additional collection fee of $10 may also be assessed after 90 days. § 19.2-354(A).

Default. If you default, the court may require you to come to court to explain why. If you do not show up to that hearing, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. If the court finds that you intentionally refused to pay (i.e. you were able to pay and just refused to do so), the court may find you in contempt and imprison you for 60 days or fine you up to $500. § 19.2-358(B). There is no consistently applied fair process for determining whether someone can pay (unlike for whether someone qualifies for a court-appointed attorney), so the court may fail to consider important information.

What is an example of what these costs look like in real life?

Let’s take Jane Doe’s experience with court debt. She was charged with two misdemeanors, a shoplifting charge and an obstruction charge. She pleaded guilty to both in January and was assessed costs. She incurred the following costs for each charge: 


Misdemeanor fee = $61  

Court-appointed counsel fee = $120   

Internet crimes fee = $15

Court security fee = $20


Misdemeanor fee = $61  

Court-appointed counsel fee = $120   

Internet crimes fee = $15

Court security fee = $20

Total for both charges = $432 

She did not make a payment plan within 180 days and started to accrue interest of 6% in July. Her case was sent to collections halfway through that period (after 90 days), with an additional increase of 17%,  and a fee of $10 was assessed. She entered into a payment plan in December.

Original = $432 

Collections fee = $10 

17% collections increase = $73.44 

6 months of interest (on original) = $155.52

Total owed = $670.96

If she defaults on this payment plan and wants to enter into another one, she may have to make an initial down payment of $50 just to set it up.

How can I get relief from court costs?

Social Security. Virginia provides very few options to get relief from paying court costs. If your only income is from the Ssocial Ssecurity Administration, however – such as through SSA retirement benefits, SSDI, or SSI –, the  courts are not permitted to collect from it toward criminal court costs, under federal law. 42 USC 407(a). If your only income is Social Security, be sure to inform the clerk when you set up a payment plan. If they set any amount over $0, you can file a motion to challenge that in court. For more information on this topic and to see if we can help you, see SSA Beneficiaries with Criminal/Traffic Debt.

Inability to Pay. You may also be able to petition the court for relief, especially if you have defaulted on your payment because you cannot pay the costs. Ohree v. Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 299 (1998). The court can give you more time to pay, reduce the amount owed, or cancel the debt entirely. § 19.2-358(C).

Even if you are not realistically able to pay the court costs, the court may find that you are able to pay them because (again), there is no streamlined process for determining whether someone has an ability to pay their costs. You should bring as much evidence as you can about your income and expenses (paystubs, loan payment information, etc.).  Pay careful attention to explaining and documenting whatever basic living expenses you may have, such as for housing, utilities, food, transportation, child care, and medical costs.

If these options do not apply to you, you can also request community service instead of paying the costs, either while incarcerated or not incarcerated. § 19.2-354(C).  The courts have discretion under Virginia law as to whether or not to approve community service to work off costs.

How can I get involved in stopping the harmful effects of criminal court costs?

Knowledge is power. Many people do not know about court costs until interest has already accrued. The first, and often best, time to pushback on court costs during a criminal case is when the judge and clerk impose them, at the final court date for the case. You can spread the word (by telling people about this website), so that they know what to expect, and can ask the court for relief before costs are imposed.

You can also join LAJC’s efforts to educate Virginians including  attorneys, judges, and Virginia legislators—about court costs.  You may be able to help by organizing education and listening sessions, or by contacting your state and local legislators. Get in touch with us at to learn about how we might work together.

If you’d like to share your own experiences, you can fill out our form about how court costs have impacted you.  Every piece of information about how everyday people experience court costs is vital to our mission to stop their harmful effects.

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