As I was driving to General Sessions Court in Springfield , Tennessee today , I was listening to a story on NPR . The storyline was about what happens when someone convicted of a crime can’t pay their fees. Often times , it  appears that someone who can’t pay the fines or fees are now sent to jail. The growing trend is to bill the defendant for everything from jail fees , probation fees and fines. Here is a link to a chart setting out all court fees state by state. As you can see , Tennessee charges all the fees it can by law. Here is a list of common court fees;



  • Application fee to obtain public defender
  • Jail fee for pretrial incarceration
  • Jury fees
  • Rental fee for electronic monitoring devices


  • Fines, with accompanying surcharges
  • Restitution
  • Fees for court administrative costs
  • Fees for designated funds (e.g. libraries, prison construction, etc.)
  • Public defender reimbursement fees
  • Prosecution reimbursement fees


  • Fees for room and board in jail and prison
  • Health care and medication fees

Probation, parole or other supervision

  • Probation and parole supervision fees
  • Drug testing fees
  • Vehicle interlock device fees (DUIs)
  • Rental fee for electronic monitoring devices
  • Mandatory treatment (includes drug and alcohol,) therapy and class fees

Poverty penalties

  • Interest
  • Late fees
  • Payment plan fees
  • Collection fees

What happens in Tennessee if you can’t pay your fines and court costs ?  First , file a motion to have yourself declared indigent in hopes the court waives your fines and costs. Secondly , the court could issue a probation violation based upon your failure to pay the court costs and fines. Under Tennessee law and case law from the U.S. Supreme Court , the state must show you had  an ability to pay the fine and costs. I was shocked to hear what goes on around the country . Tennessee judges for the most part will not throw someone in jail for not paying their fees. In Nashville , criminal court judges routinely waive the jail fees.  


The problem in Tennessee is your loss of your driver’s license. A couple of years ago , the state passed a law that if your fees and fines weren’t paid by the conclusion of your probation then your driver’s license would be revoked. This law has created a whole new problem in that once your license is revoked . You can’t get to work. You lose your job or commit a crime by driving on a revoked and the cycle just continues.


I understand the need for government to shift the costs to those commit the crime but at what costs that creates an endless circle of despair.