New law clears court debt for low-income Rhode Islanders

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PROVIDENCE – Low-income Rhode Islanders who are charged with crimes will be spared from paying court costs and fees if they prove to the court they don’t have the financial means to pay those debts, under a new state law.

Recognizing court costs can prove an insurmountable hurdle for some people that can tie them to the courts, state lawmakers this past session passed legislation that eliminates all costs, assessments and fees for those determined to be indigent. Such costs will also be waived for anyone who serves more than 30 days in prison under the law enacted late last month.

“It’s done a great deal of healing and relief for those who have been in the system for too many years, too long,” said Cedric Huntley, executive director of the Nonviolence Institute. 

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Huntley recalled one man finally feeling free to get his driver’s license after a judge waived his court costs.

“It gives people an opportunity to explore other opportunities. It changed the way he viewed the system,” Huntley said.

Fees will be automatically waived for those unable to pay  

Previously, state law specified that judges “may” waive fees for those unable to pay, but was applied unevenly by judges. Under the new law, the fees will be automatically eliminated for the indigent and those serving sentences longer than 30 days.



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