While Louisiana has several model state policies regarding justice debt, these provisions are rarely applied consistently in practice. The state has provisions that allow judges to set fines proportional to an individual’s ability to pay, and to accept community service as an alternative to payment. The discretional nature of these provisions leads to uneven enforcement. Further, hundreds of dollars of additional fees can be assessed depending on a particular jurisdiction’s policies. These additional fees pose constitutional issues, and the lack of transparency in this area undermines public trust in the judicial system.
No incarceration for justice debt
Although State law prevents incarceration as a penalty for justice debt if a judge finds that the individual was unable to pay. These changes have been slow to take effect due to repeat delays in implementation of Act 260. Individuals can still be incarcerated for willful nonpayment. In practice, this provision is implemented to varying degrees throughout the state, meaning that individuals can still be incarcerated for non-payment depending on the way different jurisdictions assess willfulness.
Judges and municipalities have the ability to reduce fines, including statutory guidelines to make fines proportional to an individual’s ability to pay. Acts 123 and 125, passed in 2021, limit fines and fees assessed to juveniles. Use of judicial discretion in this area is sporadic.
Judges and municipalities have the ability to set up payment plans for individuals, in their discretion. However, there’s a lack of consistency in this area, as different jurisdictions have different policies and use different vendors to facilitate these payment plans, and additional fees for these services can vary. The law was amended in 2022 to require a hearing for these determinations and require courts to enter their reasoning on the record.
Judges and municipalities have the ability to accept community service as an alternative to payment, as well as substance abuse treatment or job training. In practice, the availability of this option can vary widely between jurisdictions. Additionally, the state still has many mandatory fines and fees that restrict the ability of judges to provide alternatives.
1. LA Rev Stat § 47:1676 (2018)
2. LA Code Crim Pro 875.1 (2018)