UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Paying one’s dues : the fine as the sentence of the court Edelman, Sandra Dale


This thesis is about the fine, an everyday transaction of an involuntary nature, resulting from the finding or deeming of guilt by a criminal court. Existing literature and official statistics are reported to describe the use of the fine in Canada and abroad with particular emphasis on the situation in the Province of British Columbia. The fine is found to be a common disposition for property and motoring offences and even for crimes of violence against persons in most of the countries reviewed with the notable exception of the United States which utilizes the fine for motoring offences but for little else. Based on the available evidence, the fine appears to be steadily increasing in use in Western European countries and in England but this is not strictly the case in British Columbia. The overall proportion of offenders receiving fines decreased recently in B.C. due it seems to the imposition of short term jail sentences rather than the fine for provincial statute offences. This is believed to result from "get tough", law enforcement policies directed at the more serious motoring offenders. Recent data on the use of the fine in the remaining provinces of Canada are not available. The fine is examined also in terms of its efficiency and effectiveness as a sanction and the extent to which it demonstrates both economy, as a social control technique, and notions of social justice and humaneness. Payment of the fine with little or no enforcement is the norm, due in large part to the practice of fining "good risks", i.e., casual offenders likely able to afford the fine. For the same reason, the recidivism rate of fined offenders is lower than that for offenders placed on probation or imprisoned. The most pressing problem associated with the fine is the utilization of imprisonment for offenders who default in payment. This practice is not only costly but raises the issue of the social justice of the fine since those imprisoned are more likely to have no means of paying their penalty. For this reason, the day-fine system which calculates the size of the fine according to both the seriousness of the offence and the offender's ability to pay is considered as a scheme which upholds notions of fairness and justice. The fine exercises the least surveillance and consequently control over the behaviour, and indirectly the attitudes, of offenders. As a result it is one of the least expensive sanctions to administer, particularly when the practice of imprisoning defaulters is curtailed. The fine and its administration by the justice system is considered also within the context of the structural mechanisms, functions, and finances of the state. The fine affords a concrete example of the dynamics of the state as it attempts to balance its major, albeit often contradictory, functions of accumulation, legitimation, and coercion.

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