After the Criminal Fine Enforcement Act of 1984--Some Issues Still Need To Be Resolved

GGD-86-2: Published: Oct 10, 1985. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Department of Justice and Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' (AO) policies and procedures for tracking, monitoring, collecting, and enforcing criminal fines.

GAO found that: (1) many offenders do not pay their fines; (2) there were no formal procedures governing the collection process; (3) probation officers do not obtain financial information to support a conclusion about the offender's financial status; (4) P.L. 98-596 requires the court to consider several factors in determining whether to impose a fine and the amount of the fine, including the defendant's income, earning capacity, and financial resources; and (5) U.S. attorneys' offices do not have the information needed to enforce fine payments because the courts do not routinely provide them with such information. GAO also found that: (1) a procedure is needed to deal with the changes in a offender's ability to adhere to installment payments established by the court; (2) five U.S. attorneys' offices did not have a record of fines imposed for about 40 percent of the fines sampled; (3) both the U.S. Attorneys' Office and the Probation Office are responsible for monitoring fines, but information is not shared between the two offices; (4) criminal fines are not collected promptly and effectively because enforcement techniques are not used to compel payment; (5) Justice guidelines do not provide the U.S. attorney collection units with established requirements as to when and how specific enforcement techniques should be used; and (6) probation offices are required to report to the court on any unpaid fine, but the law does not set a time frame for reporting.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During survey work on criminal fines, GAO found that information is not shared. GAO briefed the Senate Judiciary Committee on this matter and will provide questions for the fiscal year 1988 budget cycle. This recommendation has been open for 3 years. Since no action is intended, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To eliminate duplication of the gathering of financial data and enhance the collection and enforcement of criminal fines, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Attorney General should work together to develop a standard court financial report form that can be shared with U.S. attorneys' offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A Probation Division of the Administrative Office developed: (1) standard financial forms to be used by probation offices for court sentencing purposes; and (2) training programs in financial investigative techniques. Because other recommendations designed for improved dissemination of financial data have not been fully adopted, an accomplishment report is not warranted.

    Recommendation: To eliminate duplication of the gathering of financial data and enhance the collection and enforcement of criminal fines, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Attorney General should work together to develop a standard court financial report form that can be shared with U.S. attorneys' offices.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action is intended because the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration decided not to change the present system of disseminating data. This recommendation has been open for years. Since no action is intended, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To eliminate duplication of the gathering of financial data and enhance the collection and enforcement of criminal fines, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Attorney General should work together to develop, in conjunction with the Judicial Conference, guidance on permitting the probation offices to disseminate financial information to the U.S. attorneys' offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Judicial Conference Committee did not change the present system for sharing financial information with the U.S. Attorneys' Office. This recommendation has been open for 3 years. since no action is intended, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To eliminate duplication of the gathering of financial data and enhance the collection and enforcement of criminal fines, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Attorney General should work together to develop, in conjunction with the Judicial Conference, guidance on permitting the probation offices to disseminate financial information to the U.S. attorneys' offices.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Collection responsibility between courts and Justice is still being debated by Congress. GAO will follow-up in future collection work.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, working with the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, should develop mechanisms for establishing a central system for reporting, tracking, and accounting for all court-imposed criminal fines. If this is agreed upon, existing procedures should be revised to assign responsibility for performing these functions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Collection responsibility between courts and Justice is still being debated by Congress. GAO will follow-up on this issue in future collection work.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General, working with the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, should develop mechanisms for establishing a central system for reporting, tracking, and accounting for all court-imposed criminal fines. If this is agreed upon, existing procedures should be revised to assign responsibility for performing these functions.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Justice is developing guidelines on enforcing the collection of criminal fines. Once developed, guidelines will be reviewed by AO for concurrence. Reorganization plans within Justice have delayed the completion of the guidelines, and a decision in reorganization will not be made until March 1988. GAO should close this recommendation and follow-up on this issue in future collection work.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should work together to establish a policy on when enforcement techniques should be used by the U.S. attorneys' offices and the probation offices. This policy should include time frames for accomplishing critical steps in the enforcement process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Collection responsibilities between the courts and Justice is still being debated by Congress. GAO will follow-up on this issue in future collection work.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should work together to establish a policy on when enforcement techniques should be used by the U.S. attorneys' offices and the probation offices. This policy should include time frames for accomplishing critical steps in the enforcement process.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

 

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