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Louisiana: Bill allows 20 percent fee added to misdemeanor fines

The Louisiana State legislature's Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice unanimously supported Senate Bill 68 last week. The bill, which already passed the Louisiana State Senate, now heads to the House for final approval. The bill authorizes state prosecutors to levy a 20 percent collection fee on fines and fees that go unpaid by those convicted of a misdemeanor. Current state law only allows for adding a 20 percent surcharge for collecting on fines and fees related to convictions for felonies, but not for misdemeanors.

Both Ouachita Parish District Attorney Jerry Jones and the bill's author, Senator Robert Kostelka, who is a former district attorney and judge, have found in their experience that somehow people come up with the money when they are faced with going to jail. Currently there are about $1.5 million in outstanding fines and fees in the northeastern Louisiana jurisdiction, with about half coming from driving while intoxicated cases.

The D.A. plans on hiring former police officers to work on finding the individuals with past due fines and have them either collect the unpaid fines or try to get the individuals to work out a payment plan with the courts. Failing that, the next step is to put them in jail. He said the bill's goal is not to put people in jail, but to collect fines that have been levied against citizens who have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony. Although the bill would be applicable throughout the state, other prosecutors and D.A's are not required to use it.

The message appears to be crime doesn't pay. If you have been accused of a crime, regardless of whether it's a felony or misdemeanor, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can work on your behalf to fight the charges and ensure your rights are protected from the beginning.

Source: Times-Picayune, "DAs can levy fee on unpaid fines in bill passed by House panel," Ed Anderson, May 10, 2012

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