Everyday our court and courts across the nation are presented documents or information regarding a court users’ ability to pay for certain court services or the ability to pay court ordered debt (COD). Courts frequently relies on incomplete, inaccurate and unverified information and makes decisions to forgo the imposition of certain fees or the collection of other COD based upon the unverified declaration of a court user.
Regarding fee waivers or the appointment of counsel in a criminal matter, the court must balance providing court users access to the justice system and adequate representation with the imposition of certain fees required to process a case or subsidize certain services provided. In other matters, certain fines and fees are ordered as a result of the outcome in a criminal matter and a determination of a defendant’s ability to pay is an issue. When disputed, currently, the method of determining the veracity of these claims is to set hearing where testimony and evidence can be presented regarding the ability of a court user to pay these fees or fines. This is costly in terms of court resource time to hold the hearings and is not expedient. For the most part, the court will forgo the collection of the fees or fines in favor of expediency and efficiency.
But there is also an expectation of the public that the court is creating accountability by testing the veracity of declarations made to the court in support of a claim for relief of these fees and other COD. The court recognizes that there are many instances of legitimate and genuine need for the waiver of fees or the reduction or elimination of COD but courts and other agencies that benefit from the collection of user fees, and other COD, etc. lose millions of potential dollars each year when the court decision makers rely on unverified information to make these decisions.
In other industries, particularly health care, tools already exist to verify a person’s propensity or ability to pay. These industries use current data and analytics that are produced by credit reporting agencies like TransUnion and Experian to quickly verify a person’s propensity or ability to pay potential debt.
Goals and Objectives
The Court is looking for a solution that places an automatic call to verify a court user’s income as staff evaluate whether to reduce or waive certain fees or other court ordered debt.
The Court’s requirements and outcomes include:
• User-friendly and quick verification process (e.g. only require a social security number)
• Solution that may be performed in a courtroom or an office by a judicial officer or court staff
• Cost-effective, cost-worthy solution that results in cost savings as a result of less court time expended on determination
• Be configurable whereby the court provides specific models or income levels and the result is based on the courts guidelines, for instance a certain percentage of Federal Poverty Guidelines
• Be configurable to consider needs-based programs accessed or likely accessed by a court user
• Produce data for the tracking of results outcomes
• Ability to perform fidelity reviews of output from provider