RD341 - Community Service Performed in Lieu of Payment of Fines and Costs
This report was prepared in response to language in the 2017 Appropriation Act that requires the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia to report on the use of community service to discharge fines and costs. Item 40 (N) of the 2017 Appropriation Act (House Bill 1500, Chapter 836) reads as follows:
“N The Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court shall review the experience of the courts in providing the option to any person upon whom a fine and costs have been imposed to discharge all or part of the fine or costs by earning credits for the performance of community service work. The Executive Secretary shall provide a report which shall summarize data from previous years indicating the amount of community service performed in lieu of fines and costs, the hourly rate assumed and the total value of fines and costs avoided compared to the total amount of fines and costs collected, by year, and the available data on the financial circumstances of those persons utilizing the option of community service work. The report should also include a projection of the anticipated impact of the adoption of Rule 1:24 by the Supreme Court of Virginia on November 1, 2016, on the collection of fines and costs, and actual data, to the extent to which it is available, on the results of the implementation of Rule 1:24 for the period beginning February 1, 2017. Copies of the report shall be provided by October 1, 2017, to the Judicial Council, the Committee on District Courts, and the Chairmen of the Senate Committees on Courts of Justice and Finance and the House Committees on Courts of Justice and Appropriations."
Community service as an option for the discharge of court fines and costs is not a new practice. In 1982, the General Assembly provided that courts may create a community service program for discharging fines and costs. Va. Code § 19.2-354 (C). In 1994, the statute was changed to direct courts to create such programs.(*1)
Over the past several years, an increasing number of state judiciaries have paid significant attention to the collection of fines and costs, most especially when sanctions such as license suspension are used to induce the payment of fines and costs. In Virginia, this attention has been focused on improving the effectiveness and flexibility of payment plans offered by the courts for the payment of fines and costs. These payment plans are important, because license suspension for unpaid fines and costs will be avoided as long as court debtors meet the obligations of their payment plans.
At its 2015 Session, the General Assembly required that each individual court render in writing its payment plan for fines and costs and that the plan be readily accessible to the public. Courts may send their payment plans to the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court (OES) for posting on the Judicial Branch web site. In response to this legislation, on May 18, 2015, the Judicial Council of Virginia endorsed recommendations for the collection of fines and costs. In 2016, the General Assembly provided that all payment plans must be consistent with the Rules of the Supreme Court.
As a result of the 2016 legislation and after receiving recommendations from a work group that was convened, the Supreme Court of Virginia adopted Rule 1:24 on November 1, 2016, which became effective on February 1, 2017. The Rule included, among other things, provisions regarding the use of community service to discharge fines and costs when a defendant was unable to make substantial payments.
During the 2017 Session of the General Assembly, identical bills (House Bill 2386 and Senate Bill 854) were enacted that included wording similar to the version of Rule 1:24 then in effect. The bills created a new statute, Virginia Code § 19.2-354.1, which contains provisions regarding the establishment of payment plans for payment of costs and fines. In addition, the statute requires that notice be given to defendants that fines and costs can be discharged through community service when a community service program has been established.
As Virginia Code § 19.2-354.1 contains language and standards that varied somewhat from the version of Rule 1:24 that was effective February 1, 2017, the Supreme Court subsequently amended the provisions of the Rule to be consistent with the standards in the statute. The amended version of Rule 1:24 became effective on July 1, 2017, the same date on which the new legislation became effective.
The current version of Rule 1:24 addresses the use of community service in aspirational terms; it is not directive nor does it contemplate the option always being used, particularly as it commends the community service option "especially when the defendant is indigent or otherwise unable to make meaningful payments." Defendants unable to make substantial or meaningful payments constitute the population most likely to undergo license suspension for the failure to pay fines and costs.
(*1) Subsection C of 19.2-354 provides:
“The court shall establish a program and may provide an option to any person upon whom a fine and costs have been imposed to discharge all or part of the fine or costs by earning credits for the performance of community service work before or after imprisonment. The program shall specify the rate at which credits are earned and provide for the manner of applying earned credits against the fine or costs. The court shall have such other authority as is reasonably necessary for or incidental to carrying out this program."