Louisiana Supreme Court Permits Imposing Fees for Investigation, Prosecution Costs in DWI Cases

In an important new ruling, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided that courts may impose cost-of-investigation and cost-of-prosecution fees on a driver guilty of DWI, even if those fees do not have a specific, direct connection to that driver’s case. The ruling, a reversal of a previous Louisiana Court of Appeal decision in favor of a driver, states that the Louisiana statutes give trial courts broad discretion in assessing such fees, as long as they are reasonable and not excessive.

The driver challenging the fees was Jesse Griffin II, whom law enforcement officers arrested in July 2011 for first-offense DWI. A little more than a year later, the driver pled guilty. He received a suspended jail sentence and probation, along with a fine. The fine was $600, plus a $100 “cost of investigation” fee, payable to the local sheriff’s office, and another $100 for the “cost of prosecution,” payable to the local District Attorney.

The driver challenged these costs, but the trial court ruled against him. The appeals court, however, reversed that decision, siding with the driver. The prosecutor and police were not entitled to recover costs to cover their ordinary operating expenses, but instead they could only recover amounts specifically incurred in that driver’s individual case.

The recent Supreme Court ruling reinstates the trial court’s original order. The statute allowing for the recovery of cost-of-prosecution and cost-of-investigation fees is clear in allowing the imposition of fees in the manner that Union Parish did in Griffin’s case. The code section governing the imposition of cost-of-prosecution fees states that a driver convicted of DWI is “liable for all costs of the prosecution or proceeding.” Based upon this wording as drafted by the Legislature, it was clear that a driver could be made to pay for costs, regardless of whether those costs were “special, extraordinary, or itemized.”

The section that governed cost-of-investigation fees was worded differently but equally clear in allowing the collection of the fee generally. The section states that, when a driver receives a suspended sentence, the trial court has the discretionary authority to demand, as a condition of probation, “an amount of money to be paid” to the sheriff’s office for “costs incurred.” This language made it clear that a trial judge possesses broad discretion in imposing these fees and is not restricted by special or itemized amounts expended by the sheriff on that driver’s case.

The court went on to explain that, while trial courts have broad discretion in imposing these fees, that discretion has limits. The fees imposed must not be excessive or unreasonable. Making a driver guilty of DWI pay $100 for the cost of investigation and another $100 for the cost of prosecution was neither excessive nor unreasonable. The court did state, in a footnote, that its conclusion regarding reasonableness or excessiveness might be different if a court imposed such fees on an indigent driver. However, in Griffin’s case, he was not indigent and had the ability to pay the $200 in dispute.

If you are facing a possible DWI or DUI charge, the consequences, including the financial ramifications, can be substantial. Before you decide to proceed or accept a plea, talk to an attorney upon whom you can rely. Reach out right away to contact the experienced Louisiana DWI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. Our attorneys have helped many people in similar situations and can give you the advice and representation you need.

For a confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More blog posts:

The Impact of Refusing a Blood-Alcohol Test on Your Louisiana Driver’s License, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, June 15, 2015

District Attorney, Sheriff Not Entitled to Collect Payments for Ordinary Expenses from DWI Drivers, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Jan. 20, 2015

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