August 27 , 2018
Earlier this month, the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act (Public Act 100-0987) was signed into law by Governor Rauner. The Act implements key recommendations of the bipartisan and multi-cameral Statutory Fee Task Force ("Task Force") convened in 2015 to study the current system of fees, fines and other court costs in Illinois. The Supreme Court will review the current system as well as the Task Force recommendations and make its final schedule assignments well ahead of the July 1, 2019, implementation date so that circuit clerks have adequate time to prepare.
The Access to Justice Act (705 ILCS 95/25) charged the Task Force to "conduct a thorough review of the various statutory fees imposed or assessed on criminal defendants and civil litigants." In its final report to the Court and the General Assembly, the Task Force, composed of members appointed by representatives of both political parties and all three branches of government, identified four key findings: (1) court fees and fines constantly increase and are outpacing inflation, (2) several of these costs pay for services wholly unrelated to the court system, (3) there is a wide geographic variance in court fees for the same type of legal actions and (4) these court costs impose severe and disproportionate impacts on low and moderate income Illinois residents. To ameliorate these four concerns and improve the current system, the Task Force made six recommendations that are largely reflected in the new Act.
This comprehensive Act reforms a byzantine system of court costs by standardizing and reducing the complexity of court fees and fines in Illinois. The Act takes decades of patchwork add-ons and fees and simplifies them in one place. Court fees and fines are reorganized into 13 schedules of potential assessments for criminal and traffic offenses and four schedules for civil court cases which are divided by the type of offense or case. The Act also caps the maximum amount of money that can be assessed under each schedule and for various services or filings within the court process.
The money collected under these assessment schedules will be distributed at the state, county and local levels for officials to decide how to best allocate their portion for maintaining the courts. In addition, fee waiver provisions will be modified to permit some financial relief from assessments in civil cases for residents living at or near the poverty line and for waiver or reduction of assessments imposed on indigent criminal defendants.
The Task Force received direct input and support from the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts and its work reflects the interest in addressing the urgent and compelling need to reform the overwhelming array of fees, fines, surcharges and other costs faced by litigants in our court system. Once enacted, the Act should reduce barriers faced by Illinoisans unable to afford the standard fees and fines imposed under current law and help make sure that the judicial system is accessible to all, regardless of income.
This Act involved the hard work of leaders from both political parties and all three branches of government. Courts and court partners will monitor this reform to the court costs, fines, and fees system to determine if it effectively streamlines and simplifies the process and eases the disproportionate burden on low-income people in Illinois.