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Court Costs, Fines and Judgments

Are you required to pay fines and court costs?


In the case of Strattman v. Studt, 20 Ohio St. 2d 95 - Ohio: Supreme Court 1969 the Ohio Supreme Court's opinion follows:

The idea of paying fines to the state originated sometime in the 11th century when a criminal paid a wite to the king as part of his punishment. See 2 Pollock & Maitland, History of English Law (2 Ed.), 448-451. History also reveals that most people who were unable to pay the wite were sold into slavery, presumably to repay the purchaser by labor. See id., at 460, 516.  Incarceration until the fine was paid was a moderation of the slavery penalty and its primary aim was to secure payment in a more civilized manner. Cf. id., at 464, 518. Nevertheless the thrust of the original idea was that a man should work out his fine.

A major distinction between fines and costs exists. In both criminal and civil cases, costs are taxed against certain litigants for the purpose of lightening the burden on taxpayers financing the court system. As we view it, statutory provisions for payment of court costs were not enacted to serve a punitive, retributive, or rehabilitative purpose, as are fines.

An indigent person taxed with costs in a civil action is not jailed to work off this obligation. Article 1, (Bill of Rights), Section 15 of the Ohio Constitution, expressly prohibits imprisonment for civil debts. In criminal cases, court costs, assessed to defray the administrative costs of the litigation, are likewise subject to the same prohibition. The purpose of assessing costs in criminal and in civil cases is the same, and there is no justification for imprisonment for nonpayment of costs in criminal cases but not in civil cases.

By being involved in court proceedings, any litigant, by implied contract, becomes liable for the payment of court costs if taxed as a part of the court's judgment. A judgment for costs in a criminal case is a civil, not a criminal, obligation, and may be collected only by the methods provided for the collection of civil judgments. To hold otherwise would permit that which is constitutionally prohibited. As this court stated in 1900, "money obligations arising upon contract, express or implied, and judgments rendered thereon, are debts within the purview of Section 15 of the [Ohio] Bill of Rights * * *."   Second National Bank of Sandusky v. Becker, 62 Ohio St. 289 (paragraph one of the syllabus).

Thus, while a government can require that a fine be worked off at a reasonable rate, because of its punitive, retributive, and rehabilitative interest in the person fined, it cannot require confinement to work off court costs in order to satisfy its contractual interest.


In the case of: State v. Swift, 2005 Ohio 1599 - Ohio: Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate Dist. 2005 the court stated;

It is well settled that a court cannot incarcerate a person for nonpayment of court costs. Strattman v. Strudt (1969), 20 Ohio St.2d 195, 103. Court costs are civil in nature and not punitive. Id. As early as 1924, the Supreme Court held that court costs are not considered as punishment. Simon v. Eichelberger (1924), 110 Ohio St. 224, 228. A judgment for costs in a criminal traffic case is a civil, not a criminal obligation, and may be collected only by the methods provided for the collection of civil judgments. Strattman v. Studt, 20 Ohio St. 2d 95 - Ohio: Supreme Court 1969


In the case of State v. Lamb, 163 Ohio App. 3d 290 - Ohio: Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate Dist. 2005 the court expressed it's opinions on the issue of collecting court costs.

In Swift, we recognized that "a court cannot incarcerate a person for non-payment of court costs." Swift, supra, at ¶ 21, citing Strattman v. Studt (1969), 20 Ohio St.2d 95, 103, 49 O.O.2d 428, 253 N.E.2d 749. Indeed, "[a] judgment for 295*295 costs in a criminal traffic case is a civil, not a criminal obligation, and may be collected only by the methods provided for the collection of civil judgments." Id.; see, also, State v. Self, Montgomery App. No. 20370, 2005-Ohio-1120, 2005 WL 589887, at ¶ 64 (recognizing that "courts may not confine defendants to work off court costs in order to satisfy the government's contractual interest.  

We note, however, that certain statutes now expressly permit a trial court to order a defendant to perform community service to satisfy a judgment for court costs. See R.C. 2947.23(A)(1)(a); R.C. 2929.28(B). In State v. White, 103 Ohio St.3d 580, 2004-Ohio-5989, 817 N.E.2d 393, the Ohio Supreme Court recognized that R.C. 2947.23 now authorizes a court "to impose community service upon the defendant as a method to pay off or forgive costs." Id. at ¶ 15. The White court declined, however, to address the legality of this method of collecting court costs. Id. Thus, the issue remains an open question.

{¶ 12} But even if we assume, arguendo, that the trial court acted properly in converting Lamb's court costs to community service,[6] we nevertheless conclude that he cannot be jailed for failure to work off a civil debt such as court costs. To jail a defendant for failure to pay a civil obligation unquestionably would violate Section 15, Article I of the Ohio Constitution, which provides that "[n]o person shall be imprisoned for debt in any civil action." By the same token, we conclude that to jail a defendant for failure to work to satisfy a civil obligation is equally impermissible.

{¶ 13} "[A]lthough trial courts have the authority to enforce their orders through contempt proceedings, R.C. 2705.02, an order to pay court costs is essentially a judgment on a contractual debt where the court is the creditor and 296*296 the party ordered to pay court costs is the debtor. As such, the creditor, i.e., the court, can collect only the money it is due by the methods provided for the collection of civil judgments. A contempt proceeding is not a proper method by which to collect a civil judgment." In re Buffington (1993), 89 Ohio App.3d 814, 816, 627 N.E.2d 1013, citing Heidelberg College v. Depew (1988), 44 Ohio Misc.2d 20, 541 N.E.2d 637.

Although a debtor voluntarily may enter into an agreement to work to satisfy a debt , he cannot be arrested and punished if he later changes his mind and refuses to labor. United States v. Reynolds (1914), 235 U.S. 133, 138-147, 35 S.Ct. 86, 59 L.Ed. 162; see, also, Bailey v. Alabama (1911), 219 U.S. 219, 31 S.Ct. 145, 55 L.Ed. 191 (holding that a person cannot be exposed to a criminal conviction simply for failing or refusing to perform an agreement for personal services to satisfy a civil debt ); Gen. Elec. Co. v. Internatl. Union United Auto., Aircraft & Agricultural Implement Workers (1952), 93 Ohio App. 139, 158, 50 O.O. 399, 108 N.E.2d 211 ("[I]t is clear beyond cavil that any attempt by this or any other American Court to compel a person to labor against his will except as a punishment for crime would be utterly void under the XIIIth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States").

SEE: Ohio v. Ellis 2008 Ohio 2719 - Ohio: Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate Dist. 2008 , Crim. R. 32.3(C) and Crim. R. 44(B), State v. Self, 2005 Ohio 1120 - Ohio: Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate Dist. 2005, Galluzzo v. Galluzzo, 2013 Ohio 3647 - Ohio: Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate Dist. 2013, State v. Glasscock, 91 Ohio App. 3d 520 - Ohio: Court of Appeals 1993, Strattman v. Studt, 20 Ohio St. 2d 95 - Ohio: Supreme Court 1969


In Heidelberg College v. Depew, 1988 and 7 similar citations, the court stated that;

"Money obligations arising upon contract, express or implied, and judgments rendered thereon, are debts within the purview of section 15 of the Bill of Rights , which forbids imprisonment for debt in civil actions."

Last but not least;
More importantly, however, a court cannot incarcerate a person for non-payment of court costs, either directly or indirectly.- See State v. SEAUNIER, 2011

Before a trial court may order that an offender be committed to jail for the nonpayment of fines, it must comply with all of the requirements of R.C. 2947.14.
The obligation to pay court costs, in both civil and criminal actions, is a civil obligation for which Art. 15, § 1 of the Ohio Constitution prohibits incarceration. Thus, to place a defendant in jail for the non-payment of fines and to keep him confined until such time as his fines were paid or he was otherwise legally discharged while simultaneously requiring that any monies deposited on the defendant's behalf be applied to court costs before being applied towards the fine is an unconstitutional deprivation of the offender's liberty to the extent that the offender is held for the total amount of court costs. - See State v. SEAUNIER, 2011

OPINION: Courts cannot jail a person or demand community service to work off Court costs. Court costs are contractual in nature are civil debts and must be enforced by methods provided for the collection of any other civil judgment. Pay the fine for the traffic infraction. Any other Court or administrative costs are civil in nature, as such, the creditor, being the court, can only collect the money it is due by the methods provided for the collection of civil debts.

TO THE COURT: I am willing and able to pay the fines imposed by statute for this matter. In State v. Glasscock 91 Ohio App.3d 520 the court found that court costs are in the nature of a civil debt. Requiring a defendant to work off a civil fine by performing community service is peonage under the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution. A jail term would be imprisonment for a debt and since Court costs are civil in nature, Article 1, Section 15 of the Ohio Constitution prohibits imprisonment for a civil debt.

The Ohio Constitution cannot be amended by mere statutes or legislation, but only through a constitutional amendment voted on by the people of this state. As such, if this Court orders me to pay court costs or go to jail, the Court's judgment would be a violation of the Court's oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Ohio. See ORC 3.23

Any action taken by this Court to imprison me and/or to coerce me to pay court costs by threat of jail or to perform community service for a civil debt after this notice, will be the proximate cause of action which would incur personal liability to everyone involved in performing said actions. It is requested that this Court satisfy and discharge their oath of office to the Federal and Ohio Constitution and allow me to leave this building without interfering with my freedom of movement. I do not choose to pay the Court costs for this matter at this time. With the Court's consent, I will now go and pay only for the Court imposed fines in this matter and leave thereafter.

READ: Harvard report on debtor's prisons, 18 U.S. Code § 1581 - Peonage; obstructing enforcement,

FEDERAL LAW NOTES: The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution bars the coerced use of labor to work off a purely monetary debt. 18 USC § 1581-1597 enforces  it.

18 U.S. Code § 1589 - Forced labor, 18 U.S. Code § 1593 - Mandatory restitution, for benefiting from peonage, 18 U.S. Code § 1595 - Civil remedy, for imprisonment for a debt.