What Happens if I Can’t Pay My Criminal Fines in Utah?

In addition to a jail or prison sentence, most convicted offenders are also ordered to pay expensive fines.  Depending on how the underlying offense is criminally classified, Utah’s maximum fines can range anywhere from $750 for a low-level misdemeanor to a staggering $10,000 for second and first degree felonies.  While a few hundred dollars might be a manageable expense, a few thousand dollars is another matter altogether.  So what happens if you can’t afford to pay your fines?  Could you face additional jail time?  Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson explains some of your options in this situation.

How Does Utah Calculate Criminal Restitution?

The following represent the largest possible fines for criminal convictions in the state of Utah.

Misdemeanor Offenses

  • Class C Misdemeanor
    • Examples — Driving with a Suspended License, Public Intoxication
    • Fine — $750
  • Class B Misdemeanor
    • Examples — Lewdness, DUI, Marijuana Possession (less than 1 ounce)
    • Fine — $1,000
  • Class A Misdemeanor
    • Examples — Sexual Battery, Negligent Homicide, Simple Assault
    • Fine — $2,500

Felony Offenses

  • Third Degree Felony
    • Examples — Burglary, Aggravated Assault
    • Fine — $5,000
  • Second Degree Felony
    • Examples — Manslaughter, Robbery, Kidnapping
    • Fine — $10,000
  • First Degree Felony
    • Examples — Murder, Rape, Possession with Intent to Distribute (school zone)
    • Fine — $10,000

But if the above numbers represent only the maximum fines, how are lower fines set by the courts?  To make this determination, the judiciary goes through a two-step process.

First, in accordance with Utah Code of Criminal Procedure §77-38a-203, which is part of the Crime Victims Restitution Act, three things must occur:

  • The prosecutor and police provide the Department of Corrections with a victim impact statement.
  • The victim reports their expenses and financial losses.
  • You must submit a report of your financial assets, so that the courts can get an idea of how much you can realistically afford to cover.  You must truthfully list your income, resources, debts, expenditures, and assets on a form called “Financial Declaration for Restitution.”  This includes but is not limited to the following:
    • Alimony
    • Cash Resources
    • Child Support
    • Credit Cards
    • Health Insurance
    • Stocks and Bonds
    • Taxes
    • Utilities
    • Vehicles
    • Wage Garnishment

Then, based on the above information, the Department of Corrections recommends a suggested fine to the courts, which the judge may agree to or override.  Generally speaking, defendants may be ordered to pay restitution to parties including:

  • Direct victims and indirect victims, such as the victim’s spouse or parent.
  • Third parties which sustained financial losses.
  • The state and/or federal government.

criminal defense lawyers

Can I Be Jailed for Failure to Pay?

Theoretically speaking, the courts should not order restitution which exceeds the defendant’s means to pay.  Unfortunately, despite the financial paperwork which is designed expressly to avoid this scenario, a large number of defendants are ordered to pay fines which they cannot accommodate.  Working with an experienced defense attorney can help reduce your chance of being burdened with excessive criminal fines, as your lawyer can talk to the judge to help negotiate a reasonable payment based on your income and other financial resources.

Rules for the treatment of fines are set out in Utah Code of Criminal Procedure §77-18-8, which states the following:

When a defendant is sentenced to pay a fine in addition to a jail or a prison sentence and the judgment is that the jail or prison sentence be suspended upon payment of the fine, the service of the jail or prison sentence shall satisfy the judgment.

This means if you’ve received fines and jail time on the condition that payment will allow you to avoid jail, serving the sentence will be sufficient if you cannot pay.  The statute then adds:

If a defendant fails to pay the fine and thereafter the court finds that the defendant failed to make a good faith effort to pay the fine, the court may, after a hearing, order the execution of the suspended jail or prison sentence.  If a defendant is sentenced to pay a fine only or is sentenced to jail or prison and a fine, with neither suspended, he shall not later be committed to jail for failure to pay the fine.

This means if you didn’t make an honest effort to pay to the best of your abilities, you can be sentenced to prison.  However, if you only received a fine and/or sentence which wasn’t suspended, you can’t be given another sentence just because you cannot pay.

Finally, you have one more protection: under §77-18-7, as a defendant you “shall not be required to pay court costs in a criminal case either as a part of a sentence or as a condition of probation or dismissal,” unless there are exceptional circumstances upheld by another statute.

If you or one of your loved ones has been arrested in Utah, you need experienced legal counsel on your side.  To start discussing your options in a free and confidential case evaluation, call Utah criminal defense attorney Darwin Overson at (801) 758-2287.