Trial courts have discretion to waive court costs and fines

In State v. Halton, No. M2004-02738-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 31, 2005), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reiterated that trial courts may waive court costs and fines for defendants during the term of their probation supervision.  Halton involved a broke defendant who asked the trial court for relief from paying his costs and fines.  While the court waived the fines, it stated that it did not have the authority to waive the costs.

On appeal, the court of criminal appeals reversed the lower court, holding that a trial court has discretion to waive court costs.  The appellate court cited State v. Black, 897 S.W.2d 680, 683 (Tenn. 1995) (“[T]he decision of whether to waive court costs rests within the discretion of the court.”) and noted that Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-308 provides trial courts with the power to modify or remove any condition of probation, which includes the payment of costs and fines.

However, while the trial court has discretion to waive costs and fines, it does not have to waive them.  As our Supreme Court stated in Black, “there is no statutory or decisional authority to support the proposition that a trial court must waive the court costs upon a finding of indigency.”  Accordingly, the Tennessee Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court to consider whether the defendant’s court costs should be waived.

State v. Halton, No. M2004-02738-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 31, 2005)