Oklahoma courts have not suspended fines and fees

COVID-19 Policy Analysis: As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, OK Policy will be analyzing state and federal policies that impact our state and its residents during this national health emergency. These posts reflect the most current information available at publication, and we will update or publish follow-ups as new information becomes available.

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Oklahoma’s county courts, which handle all civil and most criminal cases across the state, have suspended most of their activities until April 15 at the earliest. There has been no official guidance about the collection of criminal fines and fees while court activity is suspended. Some agencies have taken action on their own, for instance Tulsa County has suspended new failure to pay warrants

Oklahomans owe millions of dollars to the courts, including for juvenile cases, and those who are unable to pay are regularly arrested and jailed for their failure to pay. There were 20,000 open failure to pay warrants in Tulsa County alone last year, according to a review by the Tulsa County Public Defender. 

All courts and agencies that collect fees should immediately suspend their collections activities during this national health emergency. 

This action is especially true for issuing and arresting on warrants for failure to pay court costs. During a time when Americans are being asked to use social distancing techniques to slow the spread of the coronavirus, we do not need to be arresting individuals for failing to pay court costs. This decision would not risk public safety, and it’s a common sense step that will relieve pressure on jails, which are ticking timebombs for a viral outbreak.

In the meantime, if you owe court costs and cannot pay for any reason, be sure to call the Court Clerk’s office in the county or municipality where you owe costs. They may be able to reduce or delay any payments you owe and help you avoid a warrant for failure to pay. Contact information for District Courts is available here; search online for the phone number for the municipal court where you owe costs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Gentzler joined OK Policy in January of 2016 as a policy analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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