Civil Assessments: The Hidden Court Fee that Penalizes Poverty


Our latest report explores civil assessment fees, a type of poverty penalty charged to people who miss a deadline to pay or appear in court. One of the highest and most common fees in California, it is a $300 hidden fee charged to people in cases involving anything from a traffic ticket to a felony. For many people, this can exponentially increase the amount they owe. For example, the addition of a civil assessment and administrative fees can take a $35 base fine for running a stop sign and increase 8.5 times. Policy decisions about this hidden fee have been made with very little data about how it affects Californians, or whether it serves a purpose. At the same time, an estimated 300,000 to one million people get civil assessments each year, primarily as a punishment for not paying with money they do not have.

To understand the actual impact of this hidden fee, the Debt Free Justice California Coalition conducted surveys with more than 200 people with recent traffic citations. This new data is released for the first time in this report.