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«A Fine as a Form of Criminal Punishment»

There are several kinds of punishment for crime including imprisonment for a fixed term, life imprisonment, correctional labor and fines. Fines are the lightest form of criminal punishment. Therefore, the possibility of appointing monetary penalties should be considered in every case. A fine can be applied as the main or additional punishment. The essence of a fine lies in pinching of property interests of a person responsible for crime. The paper will discuss fines as a form of criminal punishment in the United States, the conditions for their imposition, the amount of penalties, the consequences of non-payment, as well as the role of penalties in the US system of criminal punishments.

General Notion on a Fine

Prison overcrowding and financial problems in the US forced society and the state to pay attention to other types of punishment than custodial sentences. A fair and effective system of sentencing should include a wide range of penalties not limited to a choice between prison and probation. The so-called intermediate punishment, which may include a fine, plays an important role in criminal punishment. “By far, the most common form of criminal punishment is the monetary fine” (Scheb, 2007, p. 540). In the United States, during the last decades, a variety of programs aimed at creating an effective system of penalties distinguished by a diversity of intermediate punishments emerged. They allow preventing and reducing prison overcrowding, as well as imposing sanctions, which are not connected with imprisonment of people who committed the crime for the first time and are prone to correction.

A fine is the lightest form of punishment. “It is imposed by lawful tribunal upon a person convicted a crime” (Rolando, 2013, p. 433). A fine is appointed both as the principal and additional punishment. As practice shows, the level of the appointment fine, to some extent, depends on the socio-economic conditions of people’s lives and their ability to pay. The fine is a criminal punishment of the material nature. It is a pecuniary punishment imposed on the convicted person. Calculation of the amount of the fine can be done in two ways – in a fixed sum and at the rate of the salary or other income. Another income is a taxable income in accordance with applicable law.

Nowadays, a fine as a form of criminal punishment is widely used in criminal law of most countries. “Northern European countries began to develop the day fine as a criminal punishment in the 1920s” (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2013, p. 390). Thus, under the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany, it is the second major form of criminal punishment. In France, fine is a main form of property punishment. In the US, this form of punishment is also extremely widespread. However, more often, it is prescribed as additional punishment. In most cases, at sentencing, fine is combined with imprisonment or probation. It should be noted that in the United States, penalty as the main form of punishment is significantly limited. However, some foreign experts affirm it to be odd that society that relies on financial incentives does not apply financial and deterrent means in a form of a fine as a main punishment for crimes. Stamatel, Sung, and Newman in the book Crime and Punishment Around the World pointed to the important role of intermediate punishment in the United States and explained that there are no reasons why a fine cannot be a well-deserved punishment for serious crimes, since property punishment can be thought to be hard that can become the financial supreme penalty.

The Amount of a Fine

In legal literature, a fine is defined as a form of criminal punishment and a monetary penalty paid to the state, which is appointed by the court for committing a crime. In criminal law of the United States, it is defined as a certain amount established in accordance to the legislation. This amount is fixed. Thus, according to the federal law, a minimum fine is $ 250, a maximum - $ 250 thousand. In section 3571 of 18title, USC provides amounts of the fines to be paid depending on the severity of the offense:

  1. For a felony, (the most dangerous assault for which punishment is death penalty and imprisonment of more than one year), a fine may not exceed $250 thousand.
  2. For a misdemeanor, (less dangerous assault for which punishment cannot be more than 1 year of imprisonment) that caused death of the victim, the penalty may not exceed $250 thousand.
  3. For Class A misdemeanor not resulting in death, punishment is no more than 100 thousand dollars.
  4. For misdemeanor Class B and C not resulting in death, punishment cannot exceed more than $ 5,000.
  5. For violation (minor assault), a fine does not exceed $ 5,000 (“18 S. Code § 3572,” n. d.).

Penalties for organizations for the similar offenses are two times higher. According to the Criminal Code of Alabama, a fine for a felony varies from $60 thousand to $15 thousand, and for a misdemeanor - from $6000 to $500. The Criminal Code of Ohio provides a maximum penalty for a felony (except violent killing) in the amount of $20 thousand. According to the Criminal Code of the State of New York, a fine may be assigned as the main form of punishment for any felony, except for Class A and B, as the article 80 of the Criminal Code states that the penalty for a felony may not exceed $ 5,000. For a misdemeanor, the amount of the fine ranges between $1000 and $500 and for violation – not more than $250. According to the Criminal Code of the State of Hawaii, a fine may be prescribed as the only punishment for a crime of any category, even for a Class A felony if taking into account the nature and characteristics of the offense and the offender, the court comes to the conclusion that this punishment will be enough to protect the public interest. It should be noted that for the commitment of drug crimes, penalties could reach several million dollars (“Criminal code - by state,” n. d.).

In appointing a fine, the court considers such factors:

  1. The sources of income of the defendant.
  2. Solvency of the defendant.
  3. Conditions of life of the family.
  4. The nature of the burden that will fall on the guilty and those, who are dependent upon him/her.
  5. The size of material damage.
  6. Expected legal costs in connection with imposition a form of punishment, as well as the possibility of imposition of the penalty from another person (“18 U.S. Code § 3572,” d.).

Non-Payment of a Fine

Under federal law and the Criminal Code of the states, non-payment of a fine may result in its replacement by imprisonment in cases, when the convicted person willfully refuses to pay the fine. Imprisonment is also the only possible punishment for the perpetrator given the nature of the crime and his/her personality. If the convicted person deliberately does not pay the fine, he/she could be sentenced to any punishment that might be initially imposed. However, if a person refuses to pay the fine unintentionally, he/she may be sentenced to pay a fine of up to $10 thousand or twice the amount of the unpaid fine and (or) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year. Replacement is done considering that one unpaid dollar is equal to one day of imprisonment, but not more than 1 year in prison (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2014). However, under the Criminal Code of Illinois, five unpaid dollars are equal to one day of imprisonment. The exception is that the convicted person cannot be imprisoned, if the impossibility of paying the fine is a result of his/her poverty (“18 U.S. Code § 3572,” n. d.).

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Reasons Limiting the Fine

In such a way, under federal law, the main types of punishment in the United States are imprisonment, probation and fines, which are not alternatives, but rather support each other. In the judicial practice of the United States, imposition of punishment along with imprisonment and a fine is extremely widespread. It is directly provided by federal and state law. A fine is also often combined with the appointment of probation.

In the United States, a fine as the main form of punishment is charged far less frequently than in Western Europe. In 1979, 82.4% criminals in Germany were condemned to a fine. 66% of the criminals committed crimes against other person. In the United States, the appointment of principal punishment in a form of a fine was traditionally limited. At the same time, federal law and the laws of some states including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin provide an additional role for the fine. It is not perceived as real punishment. In contrast, in the Federal Republic of Germany, imposition of a fine minimized and replaced the short-term deprivation of freedom. In Germany, a special system establishes a maximum and minimum fine for different groups of offenders (Ruggiero & Ryan, 2013).

In the United States, there is a belief that fines cannot be assigned to the poor, who constitute a large part of the population and most of the offenders. However, researches in this field have shown that the unemployed and poor people properly execute the sentence of the court imposed in the form of material punishment. It is not surprising, because frequently, people condemned to pay a fine ask for support from family and get a chance to reform. In this case, there are two goals of criminal punishment – correction of the convict and prevention of the new crimes. For the culprit, material and psychological support, when paying a fine, of the family and friends is extremely important. An essential point is the fact that the amount of the fine can range from maximum to minimum depending on the severity of the crime. A financial position and income of the offender are also taken into account (Ruggiero & Ryan, 2013).

Terms of Appointment of a Fine

Michael Tonty identifies the following terms of appointment of a fine as the main form of punishment in the United States:

  1. Admission of guilt by a person, who has committed the crime for which criminal liability is provided in a form of a fine, should be considered. Admission of guilt demonstrates an awareness of the wrongful conduct and possible correction in the future. It should be noted that for certain crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery, even in case of admission of guilt and remorse, a fine can only be used as an additional measure.
  2. The offender should not be a threat to others. He/she needs constant monitoring by law enforcement agencies to avoid further unlawful conducts. In this condition, the emphasis is made on the personality of the convict, his/her psychological state, reasons and motives of committing a crime, as well as the criminal record in the past.
  3. The amount of fine should be commensurate with the severity of the crime. At the same time, the financial capacity of the defendant, the sources of income and other circumstances stated in the paragraph 3572 of the paragraph 18 of United States Code should be taken into account (Tonty, 2013).

A system of this kind of punishment should be effective. It should provide warranty of fine payment by convicts and in the case of non-payment, the possibility of replacing it with more severe punishment including imprisonment. However, the majority of appointed fines remain unpaid. In the US, there are no special services or departments that are responsible for a direct collection of fines upon court sentence is imposed, such as probation services. Frequently, the execution of sentences in terms of payment of fines is imposed on the probation officers. Accordingly, there is no liability for non-execution of a court decision on a guilty person required to pay a fine. To establish an effective system for collecting fines it is necessary to prescribe immediate payment of a fixed amount of money to the state treasury if the sentenced person has enough funds. If a person cannot pay the fine at a time, it is necessary to create a payment schedule taking into account the amount of money to be paid and the financial situation of a guilty person. A fine, amount of which is not manageable to the offender, should not be imposed. In this case, it should be noted that simultaneously with the appointment of punishment in a form of a fine, the offender is often forced to compensate material and moral damage to the victim and pay court costs and other expenses regarding criminal proceedings. It is stated in the American criminal law. The above payments also determine the financial ability of a person to pay a fine, and ultimately find their expression in the amount of fines. As the first signs of failure to pay appear, it is necessary to take measures and respond in a form of different kinds of reminders and letters. In cases of deliberate unwillingness to pay, it is necessary to take proactive actions, either to confiscate the property of a guilty person or change criminal punishment to more severe. In this case, it is fundamental that all fines appointed by the court are paid or replaced by other more severe punishments. It will be an effective system of appointment and execution of the fine as the main form of criminal punishment in the United States. In this case, it is similar to the banks and other credit institutions, where there is a clear and coherent system for the return of credit funds. The state should be interested not only in punishing a person, but also obtaining additional funds in the treasury (Ruggiero & Ryan, 2013).

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Studies in the US have shown that judges are well-disposed to fines and would like to use it more often. Nevertheless, in practice, there is an opinion that a fine is not a fair punishment, and is primarily discrimination against the poor (Gardner & Anderson, 2014). “Judges note that offenders tend to be poor and they fear that fines will be paid from the proceeds of additional illegal acts” (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2014, p. 575). Initially, the US law considered a fine as punishment for minor offenses and the bar that set the size of a fine was low. Over the past decade, the amount of a fine has increased. It can be assumed that imposition of a punishment would be more effective if the court could raise the amount of the fine, thereby realizing a punitive function of punishment. In any case, for a person who committed the crime imprisonment would be more disastrous than any family property losses, expressed in a form of fines as punishment for a crime (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).

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From an economic point of view, in its monetary equivalent a fine is profitable for the state. State budget funds are economized rather than spent on the maintenance of criminals in prison. It is more than $ 1,000 per month. Therefore, a fine is beneficial to members of society who pay taxes. In this case, a fine can save regular income. It also relieves a person from prison experience and provides an opportunity to communicate with the family (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).

According to many experts, it would be advisable to increase the amount of a fine to a sufficiently high level and it will act as punishment, but not forgiveness for criminal actions. In the United States, an effective system of collecting fines should also exist. Overcoming the problems of class injustice in America, the differences in the financial positions of the criminals and a coercion in the executing this type of punishment, will enable the judges to impose a fine as the main form of punishment for most crimes under criminal laws of the United States. Anyway, criminal punishment in a form of a fine will always be more desirable than imprisonment (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).


A person convicted of committing a crime is punished by a court sentence. There are several types of punishment. A fine is one of them. It is considered the lightest type of criminal punishment. The legislation provides many opportunities for the appointment of this type of punishment, and sometimes even encourages judges to use monetary penalties. A fine can be imposed for any crime. However, an amount of a fine varies depending on the offense. It is obvious that punishment in a form of a fine should be imposed at a rate that provides the possibility of its actual execution, or the meaning of criminal punishment in a form of a fine will lose its sense. If a convicted person by federal criminal law knowingly does not pay the fine, he/she should be sentenced to any punishment that should have been imposed initially. The desire of the authorities in to fill the state treasury reduces the negative impact of imprisonment and relieves prisoners, encouraging judges to resort to the use of such punishment. However, if the offender is unable to pay it, he/she is bound to be in jail.



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