A fine is money paid usually to superior authority, usually governmental authority, as punishment for a crime or other offence.
The most usual use of the term, fine, relates to a financial punishment for the commission of minor crimes or as the settlement of a claim. A synonym, typically used in civil law actions, is mulct.
One common example of a fine is money paid for violations of traffic laws. Currently in English Common Law relatively small fines are used either in place of or alongside community service orders for low-level criminal offences. Larger fines are also given independently or alongside shorter prison sentences where the judge or magistrate considers a considerable amount of retribution is necessary but there is unlikely to be significant danger to the public. For instance, fraud is often punished by very large fines since fraudsters are typically banned from the position or profession they abused to commit their crimes.
Fines can also be used as a form of tax. Money for bail may be applied toward a fine.
A day-fine is a fine that, above a minimum, is based on personal income.
Some fines are small, such as loitering which can run about $25–$100. In some areas of the United States (for example California, New York, Texas, and Washington D.C.) there are petty crimes, such as criminal mischief (shouting in public places, projecting an object at a police car) that run between $2500–$5000.
In England now there is a system whereby the court gives the offender a "fine card" which is somewhat like a credit card; at any shop that has a paying-in machine he pays the value of the fine to the shop, which then uses the fine card to pass that money on to the court's bank account.
Early examples of fines include the Weregild or blood money payable under Anglo-Saxon common law for causing a death. The murderer would be expected to pay a sum of money or goods dependent on the social status of the victim.
Arguments for and against
Fines are considered to be a cost-efficient and fair way of punishment for those who commit a non-violent offense. Lengthy prison sentences for minor offenses such as drug possession cost taxpayers more, remove otherwise productive citizens from society, and impose a fear on society as a whole because of over-policing and excessive prosecution.
Fines are counter-productive if the offender commits more offences to get the money to pay the fine.
The effect of a fine is lessened if the money to pay the fine is raised by contributions by the offender's associates, or if his family rather than himself go short to save back the lost money.
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