Crime Pays Arizona Courts, and Your Criminality is Their Livelihood

Crime pays….the state.  Make no mistake about it, there is a reason many people are beginning to refer to highway patrols as road pirates.  They’re not out there keeping the roads safe for you and me, they’re out there looking for easy targets, fat booty for the state.  Need proof?  A recent investigation of Arizon courts by the ACLU discovered the courts were making serious coin catching you up in violations that garnered them fines.  The courts are making a handsome living collecting fines from you, so why would they ever want to find you not guilty of violations that lead to fines, and why would they ever want to show mercy when their livelihoods depend on your criminalization?

Compounded fines and fees can be a major revenue stream for these city courts. But for residents, the municipal court system can be a Kafkaesque part of daily life. The executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona described city courts as “a revenue-generating system that turns into an endless maze where there are very few ways for people to get out.”

So, why are these city courts the top earners?

For one thing, municipal judges in Paradise Valley are unpaid volunteers, which greatly reduces expenses. Paradise Valley also imposed greater court fees than other cities. In most cities, court fees on top of penalties were less than one-third of the total revenue; in Paradise Valley, fees added up to two-thirds of the city court’s total revenue.

The city court in Tempe also generated considerable revenue relative to expenditures, according to 2017 budget projections: The court took in approximately $8.4 million from fines and forfeitures in 2017; court operations only cost about $4.4 million.

Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Tucson also posted net positive income from their courts, according to the report; however, Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Peoria, and Yuma had net negative figures from the municipal court.

“Most of them do lose money or break even, but there are some notable exceptions,” the report’s author, Mark Flatten, told reporters at the Goldwater Institute on Tuesday morning.

“[Municipal courts] handle a million cases a year. These are the foundation of the court system in Arizona, and that’s the court system most people are likely to interact with,” Flatten added.

According to criminal-justice reform advocates, these interactions are hardly fair. Fines and the punitive measures undergirding them – like an arrest warrant if you don’t pay on time – distort the criminal justice system, effectively stacking the deck against low-income people who find themselves in a municipal court.

It’s not every day that a conservative/libertarian think-tank and a left-leaning civil liberties organization are in agreement on an issue.

Net income figures for the highest-earning Arizona municipal courts, based on budget projections for the 2017 fiscal year.
Net income figures for the highest-earning Arizona municipal courts, based on budget projections for the 2017 fiscal year.
New Times graphic/Google Sheets
“For those of you who are raising eyebrows about the collaboration between the ACLU and Goldwater, don’t be,” said Alessandra Soler, the ACLU’s executive director for Arizona. “The right and the left are coming together around criminal-justice reform across the country.”

Soler, who served on the state’s Task Force on Fair Justice for All, a 2016 initiative by the Arizona Supreme Court, said the courts and the Arizona legislature require more reform. If city courts are focused on collecting revenue for governmental use, it compromises the fairness of the process, she said. Vulnerable people are affected the most.

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7 Arizona Municipal Courts That Are Making Money From Your Fines

Fines and fees can be a major revenue stream for some city courts. But for residents, the municipal court system is a Kafkaesque part of daily life.

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About Paul Gordon 2955 Articles
Paul Gordon is the publisher and editor of iState.TV. He has published and edited newspapers, poetry magazines and online weekly magazines. He is the director of Social Cognito, an SEO/Web Marketing Company. You can reach Paul at

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