News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Florida’s indigency fees pose financial challenges to legally poor in Alachua County

Detrion Curry, 49, reviews his case with public defender Elizabeth Bryan during a Feb. 22 court appearance. Moments later, he signed an indigency application. He has not yet paid the $50 fee, according to court records. He was sentenced to a year of probation on a felony domestic violence charge. (Bea Lunardini/WUFT News)
Detrion Curry, 49, reviews his case with public defender Elizabeth Bryan during a Feb. 22 court appearance. He has not yet paid the $50 fee, according to court records. (Bea Lunardini/WUFT News)

Correction appended: A previous version of this story contained inaccuracies about the charges and case outcomes. We regret the errors.

Amy Booth’s fraud case was closed a week after her arrest in February 2023. She still owes over $500 in court fees a year later.

“This is an impossible situation to be in,” Booth, 40, said. “There is no end.”

Booth is indigent, a term for people who are deemed legally poor and need financial assistance in court. University of Florida legal skills professor Derek Wheeler, 34, said indigency is an important aspect of a fair justice system.

“Indigent people are those who can’t afford to represent themselves independently,” he said. “People who check the boxes for poverty need assistance from the court to hire a public defender who can try their case.”

Indigency applications, filed when a person has been charged with a crime, are the gateway to a poor person’s court process. Once the application is filed and indigency status is granted, the person is assigned a public defender and offered fee waivers that can prevent them from drowning in court debt. Another critical part of the statute is that failure to pay the application fee does not mean an indigent individual can be refused a public defender or other essential court services, like interpreting and literacy aid.

The Alachua County Clerk of Court approved 2,560 indigency applications related to felony offenses in 2023, amounting to $128,000 in assessed fees for felony cases last year.

Some see $50 as pocket change, but for the legally poor of the Alachua County court system, it could be their next car payment or a month of meals for two. Booth said she couldn’t believe the indigency application fee when her public defender told her about it.

“My jaw dropped,” she said, “and I couldn’t help but start crying ... I thought about my daughter, rent and food and I was desperate.”

The $50 indigency application fee is codified in Florida state statute, which also established what’s known as the Indigent Criminal Defense Trust Fund. The fund collects indigency application fees to pay for public defenders and court services.

Ann Williams, 53, said she thought her application fee was waived because she was assigned a public defender without paying the fee beforehand.

“I submitted my application, and they told me I was poor, which I already knew,” she said. “My case came and went, and I was about a month into my regular life when I found out I still had to pay all the fees they charged me with.”

Williams said the fees for her case, which concluded when the state chose not to prosecute the domestic battery charges against her, totaled over $300. Williams’ fees came from her indigency application, use of a public defender and case processing.

“My charges were dropped almost a year ago and I’m still paying off court fees and bond,” she said. “If I was innocent, why wouldn’t they give me my money back?”

In addition to fees, Booth was ordered to pay almost $1,600 in restitution to Enterprise Risk Management, the company affected by her crime.

“Sometimes I wake up in a panic worried about how I’m going to pay off this money that I owe,” Booth said. “It was supposed to be easy with the community service, but it just made everything more complicated.”

The community service Booth referenced is a probation option offered by judges which allows people like her to perform community service instead of payment. In Booth’s case, she could take $12 off her fee total for each hour of community service she performed.

“I know the community service was a nice offer since I couldn’t afford the fees alone,” she said, “but I couldn’t balance my job, my kid and the community service. They never gave me more than 24 hours of notice for my community service shifts and I was starting to get in trouble at work.”

A write-up at her Waffle House job for missing a shift to do community service was the final straw for Booth. She chose to opt out of the community service project the next day, leaving her with a balance of over $550 in fees. Notably, only $50 of that total was the indigency fee.

“It doesn’t feel like it, but I really did get lucky with just my court fees,” she said. “I could be in jail right now paying money daily just for being there.”

Many jails and prisons do charge daily maintenance fees, which some prison officials compare to rent, but the Alachua County Jail is no longer one of them. Alachua County commissioners voted in May 2023 to eliminate all discretionary fees, but the same measure wouldn’t be able to nix the court fees Williams and Booth have to pay, as they are set at the state level.

Booth and Williams had vastly different cases and experiences through the criminal justice system, but they are united by the fees they continue to pay off even now. Williams said her case left her feeling desperate.

“I applied for what my lawyer told me was going to help me, but it doesn’t feel like it helped at all,” Williams said. “It feels like I’m going to be paying for my mistake forever.”

Bea is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing