New law aims to take sticker shock out of court costs

URBANA — If you’ve ever booked a hotel room for $149 a night and been billed well over $200 after taxes and fees were tacked on, you can identify with what defendants in Illinois criminal and traffic cases have been feeling for a long time.

Changes that took effect July 1 mean that defendants will now have a clear idea, before pleading guilty, of the true cost of running afoul of the law.

“Prior to this law taking effect, the joke I have been making is that ‘Under this star sign or when Mercury is in retrograde, you might be assessed the George Bailey Memorial Fund fee,’” said Champaign County Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman. “It was virtually impossible to calculate in the courtroom (the fines, fees and costs), so it was very difficult for a defendant to have a true understanding of what they could expect to pay.”

Changes to fees, fines and court costs in Illinois criminal, civil and traffic cases should take the sticker shock out of the process for litigants.

They were the result of legislation passed in 2018 intended to “address the confusion, inconsistency and financial hardship caused by the old system for assessing fines and fees,” said Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

Blakeman said circuit clerks have been working for months preparing for the new assessment structures in civil and criminal cases.

“In some cases, yes, fees are down and in some cases, no. Prior to the effective date, it was very, very different case by case. You might be able to give somewhat of an estimate of what to expect (to pay) for a felony DUI, but on drug or sex offenses, it was all over the place. What it is now is much more uniform,” Blakeman said.

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