Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Fines?

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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Fines?

Fines are one of the most common consequences for petty crimes, misdemeanors, and traffic violations. Unfortunately, having a run-in with the law can cost you—literally. Many people wonder what happens if they don’t pay their fines. But in truth, if you ignore a fine in Arizona you could be looking at additional fines or even incarceration.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Fines?

One of the biggest misconceptions about paying fines stems from Arizona’s photo radar tickets. When a driver disregards the traffic laws, the radar system photographs their license plate and then mails the fine to the home of the car’s owner. But unless a fine is filed with the courts and served, it is not enforceable. 

Because these radar tickets are not “served” and only mailed to you, a rumor is floating around that you do not need to pay your fines—this is not true. You can contest a radar ticket by proving you were not the driver, but you can’t ignore it. 

If you do not pay the court will send someone to serve you with a ticket. You’ll also have to pay a fee to cover the cost of having the ticket served. Fines that have been served to you MUST be paid in full, or the Arizona government might take action against you.

How Are Fines Served?

  • Fines can be served by a judge as part of a sentence.
  • A process server can hand you the fine order, or give it to any member of your household that is 14 years or older.
  • Law or traffic enforcement officers may hand you a fine order in the form of a ticket. 

Many petty crimes, misdemeanors, or traffic infractions are not serious enough to warrant time behind bars. Fines are meant to deter people from making the same mistake twice. This is why many judges will use fines or community service as punishment. Fines can also be added to sentences for felonies, along with other costs like court fees and restitution.

Do Fines Ever Expire in Arizona?

No, fines that are served do not have an expiry. You are responsible for the fine until the full amount is paid. If you don’t pay, you could start racking up fees and additional fines, or even be placed under arrest. Jail time is also a possibility if you do not pay your fines.

Failure to Pay Can Have Serious Results

  • Additional fines or fees may be added to the total amount of the fine.
  • A warrant may be issued for your arrest. 
  • In some cases, like DUIs, your license may be revoked until all fines and restitutions are paid in full. 
  • The fine may be passed along to a debt collector, affecting your credit score. 
  • The Arizona Department of Revenue may deduct the sum owed from your tax returns.

What If I Cannot Pay?

If you are unable to make payments, the best thing to do is to call the court. From there someone will be able to discuss the next steps. They can schedule a court hearing to request that your fines be reduced or dismissed, or direct you elsewhere for assistance. Arizona has a program called F.A.R.E. (Fines/Fees And Restitution Enforcement) which has programs and resources available to help you if you cannot afford the payments. 

A Good Defense Lawyer Can Eliminate or Reduce Fines

One of the best ways to avoid fines (and stay out of jail) is to hire a lawyer. They will be able to help you navigate the complicated Arizona justice system and be able to get your fines reduced or eliminated altogether. Todd Coolidge has over 25 years of experience fighting for his client’s rights, and his firm knows exactly what’s on the line. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.



Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/25/23). Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash.