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What Are Prosecution Fees? Are They Legal?

We all know there can be costs to breaking the law. You may have to pay a fine, or pony up for an attorney. You might have to pay some court costs, and, if you agree to community service or classes, there may be a price tag on those. But some states have added a new wrinkle: prosecution fees. These, allegedly, are the costs borne by the state, county, or municipality associated with prosecuting criminal defendants, which are then passed on to the defendants themselves.

This may sound absurd -- aren't prosecutors, city and county attorneys, and other court officials already paid to do this? Just wait until you hear how much prosecution fees can be.

Paying for Your Own Prosecution

A report last year by the Desert Sun discovered that two California cities -- Indio and Coachella -- had charged defendants more than $122,000 in "prosecution fees" over just 18 criminal cases. And the vast majority of those cases involved minor violations for which defendants faced no jail time and were fined only a few hundred dollars, yet faced massive bills to pay for outsourced prosecutors who only attended a couple court hearings. And defendants could be charged more if they decided to appeal their decisions.

Some of the more outlandish cases involved:

The cases include:

  • A man who expanded his living room without a permit, with the goal of running a day care center, and agreed to pay a $900 fine and bring his house up to code; he was later charged $26,000 in prosecution fees, which increased to $31,000 after an appeal;
  • A family with a broken garage and an overgrown yard filled with trash and junk was billed $18,500 for the prosecution, which rose to $25,200 after an appeal; and
  • A woman who strung a Halloween decoration across the street in front of her home who was charged $2,700 in prosecution fees, which increased to $4,200 after an appeal.

Most of the cases involved the city's employment of outside counsel, specifically a firm named Silver & Wright, to prosecute cases. If the defendants didn't pay, liens could be placed on their property.

Fee Changes

Due to the Desert Sun's reporting, California banned the practice of charging prosecution fees in most cases. From now on, cities or counties will be prohibited from contracting with private law firms who pursue criminal charges for code or ordinance violations, and then passing those fees on to defendants. Other states, like Florida, still charge prosecution fees, but they are far less exorbitant.

If you're facing any kind of fees associated with criminal charges, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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