District Attorney, Sheriff Not Entitled to Collect Payments for Ordinary Expenses from DWI Drivers

Demo_arrest,_handcuffedOne of the particularly noteworthy decisions from last year provides clarification and sets limitations regarding how district attorneys and sheriffs can collect payments for investigation and prosecution costs from persons convicted of DUI. The Louisiana Court of Appeal resolved the appeal of one man who had challenged the assessment of these costs, sending the man’s case back to the trial court and limiting valid fees to those expended on the man’s individual case.

The challenge was launched by Jesse Griffin II, who was stopped and arrested for first-offense DWI. In September 2012, the driver pled guilty, and the trial court sentenced him to a suspended sentence of 150 days, one year of probation, and a fine of $600 plus “all costs of these proceedings.” The costs assessed to Griffin included a $100 cost-of-prosecution amount payable to the District Attorney’s office and another $100 for cost of investigation, payable to the sheriff’s office.

In his appeal, Griffin argued that the prosecution and investigation costs assessed were traditional government functions, and he could not legally be required to pay them. To further bolster this point, the driver’s lawyers pointed out that the costs were not itemized and were assessed to everyone who pled guilty, even on minor traffic offenses.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the driver, concluding that the way that the Union Parish authorities went about collecting fees was illegal. The court noted that, back in 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring that only “the costs of the prosecution of the particular defendant against whom the fee is assessed” are recoverable. In order for a prosecutor or sheriff to have a proper claim for costs, the costs billed must “bear a true relation” and be necessary to the prosecution of that specific person and not be simply the ordinary operating expenses of the district attorney or sheriff’s office.

Examples of costs truly related to the accused might include the court’s hiring foreign or sign language interpreters for accused persons with hearing impairments or who do not speak English. In some cases, the courts have upheld cost of prosecution amounts in the thousands of dollars if the state provided clear documentation establishing that it spent those sums in the course of prosecuting that particular defendant.

The court also rejected an alternate argument put forward by the state that Griffin, by choosing to go ahead and pay the costs, had waived his right to challenge their assessment. The appeals court noted that Griffin’s counsel objected to the assessment of both the cost of prosecution and the cost of investigation before the trial court. Since he lodged this objection, the appeals court ruled that his payment was involuntary, and he retained his right to challenge the assessment of the costs.

While trial courts have latitude in how they sentence drivers convicted of DWI/DUI, the law still erects limits on what they can do. Griffin’s case was one example where the court crossed that line. To help you protect your rights as you or a loved one faces a DWI/DUI charge, consult the Louisiana DWI/DUI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 1-888-89-CARDONE (1-888-892-2736).

More Blog Posts:

State Allowed to Suspend Driver’s CDL Despite Dropped DUI Charge, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Dec. 1, 2014

Baton Rouge’s DWI Checkpoints Violated State Law, District Court Rules, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Dec. 1, 2014

Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation at Wikimedia Commons.