Legislative auditors say courts poor at collecting fines

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Legislative auditors say Nevada's courts do a terrible job of collecting fines and administrative assessments imposed in criminal cases.

But they said the worst collection rates are in criminal cases at the district courts in Washoe and Clark counties.

The overall collection rate for fines and assessments was just 81 percent of those imposed by the state's justice and municipal courts, according to auditors. For Washoe and Clark District courts, however, the collection rate was just 23 percent.

"In addition, testing found no evidence of collection or enforcement actions taken for those offenders who failed to comply with their sentences," the audit report said.

Staff and management at the two courts said they don't even attempt to collect outstanding fines and administrative assessments.

"At present, most district courts rely on the Department of Prisons and the Division of Parole and Probation to carry out and monitor an offender's compliance with court orders," the audit said.

The assessments are important because the money is used to fund activities of the Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts as well as several criminal justice programs in the state. Those programs received more than $13 million in administrative assessment revenues from the courts around the state in fiscal 2001.

Fines collected at the justice and municipal court levels also pay for operation of those courts.

District court officials, in their response, pointed out that most of those convicted in felony cases and hit with large fines don't have the money to give. And once in prison, they noted, those inmates don't have the ability to earn that money, making collections very difficult.

Despite those numbers, however, auditors found operation of the court system has improved since a similar audit in 1995. It called on the Administrative Office of the Courts to strengthen internal controls, accounting and financial management in Nevada's court system to help improve collections

Specific problems found by auditors include that nearly half the justice and municipal courts lack written policies and procedures and a third don't reconcile deposits made to the payments received in fines and assessments.

They said follow up and collection is important to the enforcement of state traffic laws as well.

"If offenders know they are unlikely to faces consequences, they may be less likely to pay fines and administrative assessments connected with citations they receive," the report says.

Auditors urged the court system to improve efforts to collect the money owed by defendants from simple traffic citations to those imposed in major felony cases.


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