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Virginia audit says half of court fines, fees go unpaid

(AP) Nearly half of the fines and fees levied by Virginia courts for traffic tickets and in criminal cases went unpaid over the past five years, according to a state audit.

The state Auditor of Public Accounts report found circuit and district courts assessed an average of $357 million in fines and costs from 2008 to 2012. The unpaid assessments cost the state about $171 million each year.

The report said collections vary greatly among circuit and district courts. Districts courts assessed more than 80 percent of the total fines and costs due to a much larger volume of cases, mostly traffic violations.

The annual collection rate was 60 percent for district courts, but that left an average of $127 million uncollected each year over the five-year period.

For circuit courts, the collection rate was 27 percent, leaving an average of $44 million uncollected each year.

The audit found understaffed court clerks and local prosecutors are unable to devote more time and resources to collection efforts. About 10 percent of unpaid fines involve people sent to jail who don’t have the means to pay their fines.

Convicted offenders who don’t pay their fines can have their driver’s licenses suspended, and wages can be garnished if the Department of Taxation is notified. But auditors called the collection processes “disjointed.”

The audit recommended that the General Assembly consider establishing a statewide collection unit. But Delegate Dave Albo, R-Springfield, suggested such collection efforts should be done on the local level.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John Frey said that the audit failed to recognize how difficult it is to get money from most offenders.

“If the person is indigent, if they have a court-appointed attorney, it’s unrealistic to think we’re going to be able to get a lot of money out of those folks,” Frey said. “(Courts) are getting about as much as they can out of the system.”

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