Lawmakers were told Thursday that Nevada's district courts try to ensure the fees and fines they levy are paid -- but the job is difficult because many defendants are broke.
A legislative audit of the courts' fee collections last year found that the district courts in Reno and Las Vegas collect just 23 percent of the fines and fees they assess.
Chief Justice Deborah Agosti, a district judge for 14 years, said criminal defendants in the district courts can be told to pay thousands of dollars for services the court requires, but that does little good if they don't have enough money to pay.
Those services include payment for genetic profiling, drug assessment, mental health assessment, drug or mental health treatment, paying monthly fees for parole or probation supervision, paying public defender fees and paying any form of restitution included in a sentence.
Agosti added that about 60 percent of the defendants in district courts go to prison or jail, which also impedes courts' ability to collect.
Legislative auditor Jane Bailey said district courts don't have a lot of motivation to collect administrative fees, which defendants have to pay to help fund the courts.
"The administrative assessment for the district court is $25," Bailey said. "It does not hinge on the amount of the fine. It's $25. The district court itself is allowed to keep $5, and then the remaining $20 comes to the state. So there's not a lot of incentive. Five dollars does not pay for a lot of collection action."
Bailey agreed with Agosti's point that defendants often must pay other fines and fees and that local municipalities may put a higher emphasis on collecting those fines.
Overall, Agosti said, courts are doing a good job in trying to collect fees. The audit found the collection rate for all courts was at 81 percent, up from 63 percent found in a 1995 audit. Agosti said the national average for collection is 65 percent.
The audit's other complaints include a lack of consistency throughout the court system, and weaknesses in some individual courts' collection methods. The report also said the Administrative Office of the Courts doesn't have a process to funnel money collected back to the state, when appropriate.
The audit made six recommendations to fix the problems, all of which the AOC accepted and is working on, Agosti said.