Critics have long said that Illinois’ legal system is disproportionately harsh on low- and middle-income citizens compared to the wealthy. Excessive fines and fees for traffic offenses, DUIs and other violations can hurt access to employment, transportation and housing for low-income people.

A new law, which took effect in July, was supposed to address those inequities. The Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act received bipartisan support and attempts to establish a fine and fee structure that is considered more reasonable for every offense.

The new law focuses on four areas

One of the law’s chief sponsors says taxes should fund the state court system. However, Illinois does not pay for the legal system in all 102 counties. Instead, over time, local governments have relied on an ever-increasing fine and fee structure to pay those costs, which are heaped mostly on the backs of defendants.

For instance, a $25 fine for a traffic offense can cost a person more than $200 when a judge applies fees. A misdemeanor DUI conviction brings a $1,300 fee, while a felony DUI is $1,700. In contrast, the court fee for a murder conviction is $550. The sponsor says he had four goals in mind:

  • Lower fines and fees overall
  • Fines and fees must be related to the offense
  • Make court costs more transparent
  • Create a uniform statewide system

Traffic offenses are excluded from waivers

The new law expands waiver options for people who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level. A person earning $50,000 a year can get a 25% break in court costs, while someone earning $25,000 can waive 75%. However, the catch is that fines and fees for traffic offenses are not eligible for waivers, and traffic fees increased under the law.

Critics say the new law is already failing to apply fines and fees more even-handedly, arguing that low- and moderate-income citizens continue to pay more than their fair share, and finally, that enforcement continues to target minorities disproportionately. If you are charged with a crime in Illinois, an experienced defense attorney will protect your rights and make sure you are treated fairly by authorities.