FINES AND FEES:
DEFERRED DISPOSITIONS AND COURT COSTS
A deferred disposition (or deferred dismissal) is an agreement that someone will complete certain conditions to avoid a conviction. The case is dismissed once the conditions have been met. If the conditions are not met, a conviction will be entered. (note: to receive a deferred disposition, you usually have to either plead guilty or agree that there is sufficient evidence to find you guilty.)
Many charges are eligible for deferred dispositions, like first–time drug (§ 18.2-251) or domestic violence (§ 18.2-57.3) charges. There is a law (§ 19.2-298.02) that permits a deferred disposition if the parties or court finds the circumstances appropriate.
Common conditions for deferred dispositions in Virginia include probation, community service, paying restitution to the person harmed, completing certain rehabilitative classes or programs, and more.
IMPACT OF CONDITIONAL COSTS ON INDIGENT DEFENDANTS:
One condition that several courts across Virginia impose for deferred dispositions is the payment of court costs. Court costs are required to be assessed in connection with all deferred dispositions and convictions, but there is no law requiring courts to make the payment of court costs a specific condition of the deferred disposition.
This condition to pay money often creates an insurmountable barrier to a person avoiding a conviction under a deferred disposition and often people end up with a conviction simply because they cannot pay. Since many people on a deferred disposition are also required to pay for the costs of rehabilitative treatment or programming, they are forced to choose between paying court costs or costs for their treatment program. Unfortunately, some courts require payment of both and enter convictions against a person even if they have completed all other required conditions.
LAJC is currently working to eliminate the imposition of court costs as a condition of a deferred disposition on people who cannot afford to pay it. This includes assisting practitioners in making arguments against this practice to use in court, and exploring potential legislative fixes. This practice can saddle a person with the collateral consequences of a conviction for decades. The simplest and best way that courts can avoid this harm is to stop requiring court costs as a condition altogether. Short of this, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that courts must at least consider someone’s financial circumstances before imposing costs as a condition, and consider someone’s ability to pay costs before entering a conviction solely for failure to pay the costs.
This practice of requiring the payment of court costs to avoid a conviction has resulted in two systems of justice. People with money can buy a way out of the criminal legal system without a conviction tarnishing their records. People without access to money end up with convictions and the long-lasting consequences of a criminal record. This needless and unequal justice must end; Virginia must do better.
If you have been convicted a crime because you could not afford to pay the court costs imposed on a deferred disposition and are interested in sharing how you have been affected by these costs with us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.