Should Fines Be Relative to Your Income Level? The Internet Weighs In.

You hear stories about people with low or uneven income getting stuck in a loop of civic nonsense, like not being able to afford to renew their license plates, then getting a ticket for not renewing their license plates, then perhaps even getting arrested for not paying a ticket, and all the while, they’re just racking up more and more debt they won’t be able to pay.

This Redditor thinks this could be easily resolved by making fines relative to a person’s income level – that way it’s still punitive, but no one is going to end up in jail because they couldn’t afford a simple ticket.

CMV: all fines (or other monetary punishments) should be determined by your income.
byu/legalizeranch_311 inchangemyview

What does Reddit think? Keep reading to find out!

16. It could backfire.

The wealthiest of the wealthy don’t have an income. They get all of their money from things they own as capital gains.

You would basically be making this type of crime legal for these people, and punish the people who can’t afford it more harshly.

The only way you would be able to punish someone like this under your system is if penalties scaled off wealth but wealth is an abstraction, and very hard to define quantitatively for the purposes of issuing a fine. People would find a way to skirt any definition of wealth you could devise.

15. It wouldn’t be simple to figure out.

If you have a billion dollars, a 99% penalty for any given crime leaves you with 10 million dollars where as someone with a million dollars would be left with only 10 thousand by the same punishment. This is an issue with proportionality, even if you’re paying the same percentage of what you have, the amount your left with in real terms is significantly different.

I don’t know how you could set something like that where it’s equally punishing to people with orders of magnitude differences in wealth. It’s closer to the same punishment than flat fines but direct proportionality doesn’t go far enough.

14. It’s all fixable.

I disagree here, the arguments I see forget to take into account that often times these fines ARE 99% of someone’s income. One speeding, or some other traffic violation can be the difference between homelessness for the majority of the population.

I agree with your OP, it should be % based, just 99% makes no sense. Yes we have issues calculating a person’s income based on yearly takes, that will be the one hurdle I cannot dismiss. Having a person’s financial information out there at every police station doesn’t make sense.

However even in that sense it’s easily fixed, you do realize courts often take months if not years to complete their processes? Don’t issue a fine amount, issue a % just like we do now in a single integer amount (Like X Speeding ticket is 500$, instead, it’s 10% of your monthly income, or something like that). It doesn’t need to be calculated until the end. A base fine can be issued, but warned that additional fines may occur based on income once that information becomes available.

It’s all fixable just through policy changes.

13. Just a few more questions.

Another thing to question is how to signify wealth.

Is it cash in the bank plus solid assets like a house and a car?

Do you add stocks?

Stocks are pretty volatile and a rich person selling stocks for large amounts of money often doesn’t get market price of their stocks.

They often have to find a buyer for a bulk sale or go to the market and dump the price to get rid of their stocks.

Not here to defend the uber rich. Just some interesting points that I like to think about with these types of thought projects 🙂

12. Policing could be an issue.

Given that Policing for Profit is already a problem, I would be concerned that this would lead to police targeting suspects based on their perceived wealth, rather than severity of the crime.

I think we can solve both of these issues by making it so that all fines go 100% directly to charity, and this remove the financial motivation for a municipality to be ticketing motorists to augment their treasury.

11. What do you count, and how do you count it?

They arent loop holes. Wealth in media and in news, is talked about as a singular numbers, and often at its maxium amount. Its actually really hard to caclulate wealth. Like, there are farmers which are effectively poor but the farm land they use is worth a couple million dollars and the equipment they use is worth a couple million dollars but their bank account and their day to day living, is spending less then 2k a month.

Someone like Bezzos, is very wealthy. But he doesnt have billions in cash. He has billions, in stuff. And that stuff when that number is reported, is being evaulated at the maxium amount. Those stuff are none fungible, in the more conventional sense not the NFT sense. Its not easily changable into other stuff. Money, dollars, is very fungible, its easy to turn money into lots of other stuff. Does this mean Bezzos isnt stupidly wealthy? No. He is. Hes stupidly wealthy.

Its just there isnt a McDuck money bin of money. So what do you count, and how do you count it. And those two questions are hard.

10. Is this a real worry, though?

What stops high income people from being constantly pulled over and harassed by police to get the department gigantic paydays?

I mean, I know people don’t exactly have a whole lot of pity for people who make a ton of money, but I don’t think it’s fair to let police go on fishing expeditions against them.

9. A second suggestion.

Just don’t have fines as a punishment, community service is better as it gets some real good done and takes everyone’s time up equally (though I guess it still hurts people who have to work multiple jobs more but there’s not much you can do about that)

8. Yeah, but we all know it’s not.

Justice is suppose to be blind and we are suppose to all be equal under the law.

Ya, I know the systems corruption have made thise lofty goals instead of foundational pronciples.

But, we dont need anything else that pulls us further away from those principles.

7. It should be based on taxable income.

You said it should be based on income and then this guy gave you answers about wealth.

If you earn $10M in your last year’s tax filing, then the charge should be a percentage of that income. I dunno what that other commenter is even saying – of course taking 99% from a billionaire leaves them with more than a millionaire, but that’s how it works today anyway!

But moreover, the suggestion isn’t “anyone who commits a crime should have their new value reset to $X” but it’s almost like that fact that your suggestion doesn’t achieve that outcome is why he’s critical of your suggestion.

6. Small issues easily solved.

The problem is if income varies year to year, or even throughout the year.

If you make $100k/year and then get laid off due to COVID, you’re still paying fines based on your $100k/year salary even though you’re living off your savings or a small unemployment check.

Or, if you make $20k/year and receive a 1-time $40k inheritance, your fines for the year are now 3x what they used to be even though the inheritance wasn’t enough to lift you out of poverty for any extended period of time.

5. Some laws would have to change first.

I agree in principal: Fines should sting no matter who you are.

Practically speaking though, it’s hard to execute in the US. As it stands the IRS/state treasury are the only government agencies that actually have access to your tax returns, which is likely the best approach to determining your income. Local police don’t have that information, so laws would need to be completely reworked to allow hundreds of separate police forces to access a given person’s income to calc a fine.

Further, tax returns don’t really explain a person’s net worth. If a millionaire takes a year off and has little income should they pay a smaller fine or pay one based on their overall wealth?

I’m not aware of any government mechanism that formally tracks people’s net worth right now, so that would need to be created which many many would resist and it would never get into law.

4. An excellent alternative.

A lot of people have pointed how difficulty with executing this plan, which I more or less agree with, but I think that’s inherent to trying to penalize everyone equally through money.

Instead, we should do away with the fines where possible, and replace it with points against your license when driving (most places already have some form of this, but make it more restrictive if needed). I’m not sure what the best way to implement this for non-driving fines is, but driving fines seem to be the most prevalent form of fine.

Not only is this equal for everyone, but you also remove the incentive for police departments to use tickets as a form of revenue (which leads to ticketing quotas).

3. You need a lot of honest people.

They tried this in Staten Island. And while it was successful on its surface, it 100% worked because people volunteered the information. Even the proponents of it realized it. They were surprised by the fact that it did work.

The other side of it? People tended to overestimate their income from fear of reprisal, which affects the poor and lower incomes worse.

All it would take is a few smart people to tell the government, “I will not answer on the grounds of my 5th amendment” and the whole system would get bogged down. Is some underpaid DA going to subpoena my Tax Returns for a speeding ticket? It has the potential to be a logistical nightmare, and guess who has money to wait out in that case? Rich folks. Once again, the poor people take the brunt of it because they can’t afford to wait it out.

What if as an alternative you gave poor people the option to show a needs-based fine instead? It would accomplish the same give them a resource they don’t normally get to use, time.

2. An unfair twist.

I know the point is to change your view but I think it’s important to mention that most crimes in the US have a max penalty but no minimum penalty so that a judge can find someone guilty of a crime – say burglary – but give them no monetary penalty if their burglary was related to being destitute.

Mandatory minimums are sadly a modern twist on an otherwise fair system. So in effect the law already is built this way but judges are increasingly not remembering why the law is written that way.

1. No subjective standards.

This kind of conflicts that other the idea that the punishment for a crime should be proportional to the perceived harm to society. Like, should someone convicted of murder when they are older get less time because they have less time to live?

There is nothing inherently worse about a billionaire driving 15 mph over the speed limit than there is on anyone else driving 15 mph over the speed limit.

I think it sets a bad precedent to start setting subjective standards in law, it opens up a lot of ugly doors.

I have to say, this is pretty much a brilliant idea.

What are your thoughts? Drop them in the comments!