A California court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to force high fines on defendants who cannot afford to pay them
It isn’t unusual in California criminal cases for a fine to exceed $1,000. For many defendants, that amount is out of reach — particularly after paying for an attorney, and potentially missing work to attend court hearings, meet with their lawyer, and take care of matters related to their arrest.
This is a growing problem in California, as many defendants simply cannot afford to pay these fees — which may result in additional legal problems, as paying fees is often a condition of probation or release. As a criminal defense attorney Riverside, CA can explain, a new court ruling may change the landscape for defendants in criminal cases across California.
In January 2019, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles made what many have hailed as a landmark ruling: People v. Dueñas. In that case, Velia Dueñas, a homeless mother from Bakersfield, pled no contest in 2015 to driving with a suspended license. Her license was suspended because had received traffic tickets as a teenager, and was unable to pay the fees. She was placed on probation and ordered to pay $220 in fees and fines. Her attorneys appealed the imposition of the fees and fines. The Second District court send the fee order back to the lower court, finding that prosecutors bear the burden of proving that Ms. Dueñas could actually pay the fine.
The Dueñas case has provided a roadmap for defense attorneys to argue that it is unconstitutional to impose fees and fines on defendants who are unable to pay them. In at least one recent case, a San Francisco area judge found that a defendant in a DUI case did not have to pay $2,000 in fines and fees until prosecutors could demonstrate that he had the ability to pay.
According to a criminal defense attorney Riverside, CA, some counties in California — such as San Franciso and Alameda — have already moved to get rid of certain administrative fines and fees for all defendants, no matter what their income is. State Senators Holly Mitchell and Bob Hertzberg have introduced a bill, Senate Bill 144, that would erase administrative fees, substituting programs such as probation and diversion instead.
If you have been charged with a crime, you may be required to pay substantial fines or fees if you are convinced or plead guilty. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney Riverside, CA to represent you can help to reduce the chances of being convicted — but if you are convicted, your attorney can present a strong argument for why you should not be required to pay a fine if you are unable to do so.
At the Chambers Law Firm, our seasoned team of legal professionals stays on top of the latest news and developments so that we can better serve our clients. We are fierce advocates for each and every one of our clients, offering a compassionate, client-centric approach. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a criminal defense attorney Riverside, CA, contact us today at 855-397-0210 or firstname.lastname@example.org.