The term “fine” can be defined in several ways. For example, a fine can be a sum of money that is ordered to be paid as part of a punishment for an offense. This is the more common definition of the term. However, the term “fine” can also be used to describe a fee that is paid by a tenant to a landlord before the tenant moves in, so as to reduce his rent payments going forward. The word “fine” is translated from Latin to mean “finish,” or “end,” which is appropriate since a fine is typically ordered at the conclusion of a case. To explore this concept, consider the following fine definition.

Definition of Fine


  1. A sum of money that a court can order a person to pay as part of his punishment for an offense he is convicted of committing.


1250-1300       Latin    fīnis

Court Fines

A court fine is an amount of money that is ordered by a court to be paid by a defendant as a penalty for his unlawful actions. Court fines can be ordered in a variety of civil cases, ranging from citations for traffic incidents to fines for drunk and disorderly conduct. Court fines can consist of fees, in addition to court costs.

Court fines can be ordered as part of someone’s sentence, or it can constitute the entire sentence. For example, a fine may be issued to someone who is caught driving illegally in the HOV lane. The fine may be the only punishment the driver will incur as a result of his irresponsible behavior, especially if it is his first offense.

When a fine is issued, the notice accompanying the fine will often state the defendant’s right to appeal, as well as the consequences of not paying the fine. There may also be a clause in the notice that specifies that the court may agree to extend the defendant’s time in which to pay the fine. This may include a payment schedule so that the defendant does not have to pay the entire fine all at once, especially if the fine is a large amount.

Different jurisdictions have different payment methods they accept in allowing defendants to pay their fines. Usually, payment is required by cash, money order, or credit card. One of the consequences of not paying a fine is that a warrant may be issued for the defendant’s arrest. It is therefore a good idea for a defendant to arrange a payment plan if he anticipates he will have any difficulty in paying the fine in full. In some jurisdictions, an individual who is unable to pay a fine may request to be assigned community service instead.

Consequences of Not Paying a Fine

In most cases, a person has between 60 and 90 days to pay a fine once it has been ordered by the court. There are several consequences of not paying a fine that a person can experience if he does not pay as agreed. The severity of the consequence depends on the nature of the offense, as well as how many offenses the person has racked up in the past. If it is his first offense, he may receive more relaxed treatment than someone who has committed multiple offenses in the recent past.

In the case of a traffic incident, for example, the court will start by sending a reminder notice that the fine remains unpaid. If the offender ignores the notice and still fails to pay the fine, then the court may impose an additional fee which can be hefty. The case will then be sent to a collections agency, and the DMV will be notified of the offender’s failure to pay. Once that happens, the offender’s license will be suspended until he pays his fine.

Of course, there are exceptions that are allowed, but they are very few. Exceptions can be granted for those who are incarcerated, hospitalized, or who are deployed with the military during a substantial amount of the time period during which the fine was due.

Additional consequences associated with not paying a fine are the issuance of a warrant, and the forfeiture of the offender’s tax return. In the first case, the court can issue a warrant for an offender’s arrest if he fails to pay his fine. In this case, the arrest cannot be vacated until the offender appears before a judge. Therefore, the only way the offender can resolve the warrant is to turn himself in.

In the case of the offender’s tax return being forfeited, this means that the fine that remains unpaid can be garnished from the offender’s state income tax return. If the offender is due to receive a refund, the fine will first be taken from the amount due to the offender, and he will then receive whatever is left. Of course, if the refund is not enough to cover the amount of the fine, then the offender will still owe the remainder of the fine.

Offenses Subject to Fines

There are numerous offenses subject to fines. Both federal and state statutes allow for fines to be imposed for certain offenses. Depending on the nature of the crime, a fine may be imposed along with additional consequences, such as imprisonment, community service, or probation. Federal law governing the imposition of fines can be found in U.S. Code, Title 18, Sections 3571, and 3572.

Even the amount of the fine can vary on offenses subject to fines. For instance, a felony may carry a heftier fine than a misdemeanor. Some states may also place a cap on the total amount that a person can be fined.

Certain crimes also carry a minimum fine. For example, a fine over $1,000 but less than $2,500 can be imposed in the state of Kentucky as a penalty for illegally selling tobacco to a minor, an offense subject to fines. Statutes are what set the maximum fine for a particular offense, and statutes can be amended. Therefore, fine amounts can change.

In state courts, sentencing and fines are typically left up to the judge to decide. The defendant’s financial situation is taken into account and, if the defendant is found to have a limited income or earning potential, then the court may not impose a fine, but sentence the offender to community service or probation. This is also true for criminal cases. If a defendant is found guilty of an offense that calls for imprisonment, but he is deemed unable to pay a fine, then the court will only order a sentence of incarceration and will not impose an additional fine.

Fine Example Involving Medical Professionals

On October 4, 1993, the New York State Supreme Court upheld a whopping $170,000 fine against Dr. Padma Ram, a doctor from Floral Park, New York. The fine was imposed because the doctor had treated 225 patients with “questionable” mammograms.

Dr. Ram was, by no means, a first offender. In 2000, she was charged by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct with 34 incidents of professional misconduct. She ultimately pleaded no contest to seven of these incidents, and agreed to an 18-month suspension of her medical license, probation, and 150 hours of community service.

Insofar as the mammogram case was concerned, the Court found that Dr. Ram had violated the state radiation code in such a way as to “bespeak a casual disregard of the health of patients.” Further, the Court found that the violations were “repeated and continuous,” which was supported by the fact that the county Board of Health had found Dr. Ram guilty of 340 violations earlier that year. These violations included an unlicensed technician’s operation of equipment, the use of a mammography machine that put out substandard mammograms, and a failure to regularly test the mammography machine.

Interestingly, Nassau County officials had met with some difficulty in trying to recover the $170,000 fine from Dr. Ram. Shortly after the decision was handed down, her husband, Dr. Moorthy Ram, fled the state to avoid paying debts to his creditors. Authorities had finally tracked him down to Wheeling, West Virginia several months later, where Dr. Ram had ended up joining him only weeks before.

Shortly thereafter, however, Moorthy was arraigned on charges of setting fire to a six-story building, where 70 families were asleep at the time. No one was injured in the fire, though one room did go up in flames. Moorthy then allegedly tried to collect several hundred thousand dollars in insurance.

A law enforcement official handling the case noted that Moorthy was “very deeply in debt,” and that he was unable to make his home and car payments, and he owed money on his utility bills. He also could not pay for the medical equipment in his office, and had borrowed money from his colleagues that he was unable to repay. All of these things culminated in Moorthy’s attempts to allegedly commit insurance fraud.

Moorthy was ultimately convicted and received an 84-month prison sentence, a three-year term of supervised release, a $25,000 fine, and a $400 assessment fee on top of the fine. Moorthy appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed his conviction, finding that there was sufficient evidence to support the ruling found by the district court.

Said the Court:

“…because the record indicates that Ram knew that Wavecrest was located on the ground floor of a six-story apartment building, and that most of the residents would be sleeping in their apartments at the time the fire was set, we believe that there is sufficient evidence demonstrating that Ram had actual knowledge of the risk.”

Despite the fact that Moorthy was in a poor financial state upon his conviction, his charges were so severe that the court imposed a fine and a fee in addition to his prison term.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Community Service – A sentencing option wherein a court orders a defendant to work a number of hours unpaid for the public’s benefit.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.
  • Probation – A period of supervision over an offender as an alternative to jail time.
  • Vacate – To void a prior legal decision.