NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – “This is a an untold story about the justice system.”

Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi is talking about how the court system charges criminals for appearing in court.

“We all know when people get convicted they may go to jail or they may go to prison,” Fatehi said. “But every single person convicted in Virginia is taxed the cost of going to court.”

That tax he is referring to is court fees.

And Fatehi said those fees, if not paid before 90 days and are sent to a collection agency, are trapping the most disadvantaged members of the community into cycles of crime and poverty.

“When you charge the same thing to a homeless person or to a millionaire it’s not fair,” Fatehi said. “And they create a debt trap that increases desperation and increases the probability they will commit a crime down the road.”

As of July 1, Norfolk has switched how they collect from anyone with an outstanding court debt from the private sector at 22.5% to the Virginia Department of Taxation, with a minimal interest rate of 17%.

“Saving hundreds of hundreds of dollars of misery for indigent people and for their families,” Fatehi said. “Money that, if it gets collected at all, it gets collected off the backs of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Citizens that are trying to overcome poverty and not return to crime and court.

“It is charging them with the stick we used to beat them,” Fatehi said.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney has asked the General Assembly to change the laws on how court fees are assessed and collected and possible be eliminated.