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Oklahoma Courts Collecting Fines, Costs at Expense of Justice

Oklahoma judges are pushing for larger fines imposed on criminal defendants to compensate for a shortfall in courthouse budgets.

The downturn in the economy has affected almost everyone, and the courts are no exception. Judges in Oklahoma have seen a 7 percent decrease in state funding for court operations. To deal with that shortfall, they are being encouraged to increase financial penalties and not forgive court costs. Further, offenders who receive probation are being required to pay larger fines.

The push to increase fines and ensure collection of court costs is being spearheaded by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. During workshops sponsored by the Supreme Court, judges have been encouraged to get “defendants to pay their fines, fees, and costs by credit card,” and to reject plea agreements that include low fines.

“I would suggest to you that a plea bargain that does not take into consideration the court which must accept it, ratify it and enforce it is one that should be looked at askance,” Chief Justice James E. Edmondson told judges in a pre-recorded video during the workshops.

Even crime victims are being put at the back of the line. During one workshop, judges were told they should reject plea bargains where payments to the victims fund exceed the fine paid to the state.

Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz, along with other criminal defense attorneys, said the push to impose larger fines and other financial burdens on defendants interfered with rehabilitative efforts. “The full scope of these is just too much,” Ravitz remarked.

Apparently, though, someone must pay to keep the wheels of justice turning in Oklahoma, and the courts have decided who that will be.


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