Skip to comments.High cost of fines: Lawbreakers hit with long list of added charges
Posted on 05/31/2009 11:21:08 AM PDT by atomic_dog
John Schiffeler, a 68-year-old retired university instructor on ancient China, was walking his dog on a popular beach south of Carmel earlier this month.
And, though he didn't know it, he was about to learn something disconcerting about the higher costs of modern life.
Schiffeler recalls that the north end of Monastery Beach was almost deserted, except for himself, his 4-year-old German shepherd, Ares, and a couple.
He asked the couple if they would mind if he let Ares off his 30-foot retractable leash. They said no problem.
And Schiffeler broke the law: Dogs are supposed to be on a leash at the beach.
After a five-minute run, the dog was lying at Schiffeler's feet when a park ranger drove up in a pickup. She asked for his driver's license. Schiffeler said he asked her if she could give him a warning this time and skip the ticket. No, she said.
He wondered what it was going to cost. The ranger told him to call the court.
Which he did a few days after the May 5 incident, and what he learned set his head spinning.
The base fine for having the dog on the beach without a leash was $50. The total cost of clearing the ticket would be $245.
"I was flabbergasted. It seemed like I'm paying for every fund in the county, except for the coffee fund in the county employees' lounge," Schiffeler said last week.
He couldn't understand why his total penalty would be almost 500 percent the amount of the basic fine. He thought $50 was a reasonable fine for breaking the leash law.
But $245 well, he said, "That is a lot of money."
He went to the Marina court, spoke to a court worker and received an itemized printout of how his $245 would be split among 16 local and state funds.
His money would go into pots of money for DNA and fingerprint identification systems, courthouse construction and security, police and prison guard training, emergency medical programs, driver training and witness assistance, among other things.
"I'm supposed to pay a portion of all these things tagged onto a dog fine?" he asked the court worker.
And he's still asking.
In the end, Schiffeler figures he'll write a letter to the court expressing his displeasure and then "fall at the mercy of the court."
But he's far from happy to learn what almost anyone who has received a traffic ticket in recent years has realized in the pit of his or her wallet.
During the past 20 years, the state Legislature and various governors have approved a dizzying menu of penalties, assessments, surcharges and other extra fees onto base fines for traffic tickets and other offenses punishable as infractions or misdemeanors.
"It's simply been evolving," said Philip Carrizosa, administrative spokesman for the Judicial Council of California, the agency that runs courts in California.
The added charges started in the late 1960s in California, when the Legislature tacked the first assessment onto traffic tickets to help finance drivers' education school programs. Since then, many more have been added.
"Various groups the justice system, the counties, courts and cities have needs," Carrizosa said.
Without opposition, a succession of state legislatures and governors have signed laws adding more fees. Now the added charges typically supersize the cost of a traffic ticket or other infractions by 200 percent to 500 percent.
On the Kern County courts Web site, people learn that traffic tickets will cost almost three times the amount of their base fines. In San Luis Obispo County, a $20 ticket will end up costing $141.
And the San Luis Obispo County Web site says starting this year there is a $25 charge for each "proof of correction" on a motor-vehicle fix-it ticket. It used to be a single $10 charge, but state law changed Jan. 1.
In Monterey County, court officials are preparing to post on their Web site similar explanatory information about the rising costs of fines and penalty charges. Now the Web site only offers the 2009 version of the statewide schedule of fines and penalties, which doesn't take into account local surcharges.
"The only thing we can say to people who are concerned is for them to contact their state legislator," said Minnie Monarque, operations director for Monterey County Superior Court. "The trial courts are required to follow the law. They are not responsible for creating these laws."
A 2006 legislative study found there were 16 separate state laws that set up the array of fines, fees, forfeitures and other charges. The money collected by courts in California can wind up in almost 270 separate revenue streams, the study said.
Carrizosa, who isn't aware of any opposition being raised over the years to the added charges, said the money doesn't begin to cover the $2 billion annual budget for the state court system, or to finance all the repair work needed in more than 400 courthouse complexes.
The money, he noted, is not just going into the courts, but to "all kinds of entities."
And it hasn't just been folks in Sacramento who have jacked up the cost of a ticket. State voters, in 2004, approved a ballot measure increasing penalties to help finance local and state DNA and palm-print identification systems.
Under the radar
The slow explosion of charges for traffic tickets and other minor offenses hasn't caught the attention of major anti-tax groups or government watchdog groups.
"We have not looked at that issue," said Dave Kline, spokesman for the California Taxpayers' Association. "We're more focused on straight taxes and tax-like fees."
The fact that there is "some alleged lawbreaking" in the basic offense unlike non-court related taxes and charges would make it more difficult to lobby the Legislature against the added fees, he said.
But the soaring fees don't surprise the taxpayers' group spokesman.
"We have seen many instances of fees and surcharges and other sorts of things being added to things," Kline said. "We would hope for more transparency on these and other types of assessments."
As for Schiffeler, the whole episode touched a couple of nerves one that left him burned up about the $245 and another that left him remembering simpler times.
"Perhaps, I'm living too much in the past," he said. "But I've learned my lesson. As a result of that unfortunate incident I haven't been back to that particular beach.
"I wish I could let dogs do what dogs do, but I can't," he said.
He still believes his three-figure fine is more evidence that "we Californians are paying very high taxes. There comes a point."
Supersizing that ticket A $50 ticket for allowing your dog to go unleashed on a beach where leashes are required will wind up costing you $245 in Monterey County courts. Here's a breakdown on where your $245 will go: $50: The citing agency (city, county or state) $50: State penalty assessment, which is split among the county and several state funds: the Fish and Game Preservation Fund, Restitution Fund, Peace Officers Training Fund, Corrections Training Fund, Local Prosecutors and Public Defenders Fund, Victim Witness Assistance Fund, Traumatic Brain Injury Fund and Driver Training Fund. $25: State court construction. $5: County DNA identification fund. $5: State DNA identification fund. $12.50: County criminal justice facilities construction. $10: County courthouse construction. $20: County emergency medical services. $2.50: County automated fingerprint retrieval system. $10: State general fund. $20: Courthouse security. $20: "Conviction assessment" to support court operations. 2 percent of total, in this case $3.60, goes to a state fund to help automate court systems. Source: Monterey County Superior Court; California Research Bureau
It’s not just California, there is too much government everywhere.
Pay the fine, no one wants to step in your dog's shi*.
A college professor? A dog named Ayers? And he probably sees no connection with being a liberal and the liberal taking of large amounts of property (money) for relatively minor infractions?
? You advocate becoming a lawbreaker over an admittedly unreasonable fine?
Why does anyone who actually works still live in CA? beautiful state but full of lunatics.
Then again, please keep your lunatics, we don’t want them to move here.
I happen to live near Fullerton CA, a city that as a matter of policy uses traffic violations as a major source of revenue. Drive through Fullerton and you will see motorcycle cops all over the place just parked and watching. They tend to park where violations are common and they pick off their victims with ease. Of course I don't drive through Fullerton anymore. I don't go to any of the stores in Fullerton that I used to frequent so it could be that things have changed. I'm sure they've changed for the merchants who now have lower revenue and lower incomes but I doubt if the traffic cops have lowered their revenue raising goals by a dime.
there ya go again, with that sparklin debate technique.
In Chicago, city inspectors are visiting retail outlets two or three times a month- for the sole purpose of finding violations, issuing fines and garnering revenue.
From now until the city and state governments are solvent again, I will be driving about 5 miles an hour under the limit. These taxes are volumtary too.
He was being kind to his dog, keeping him happy. The $245 in fines is nothing compared to what he’d have to pay the doggy psychoanalyst to treat his depressed and neurotic dog. These days people think nothing of dropping a hundred here and a hundred there on doggy treats and doggy care and doggy health insurance and doggy psychiatry.
In a case like that I wouldn't have the *slightest* problem with giving a fake name and address.But before you judge you must remember that I'm from Massachusetts where cops are nothing more than....and nothing less that...armed tax collectors.
I walk my dog every evening on a leash. He still craps. Wonder what's wrong with him?
Have we had enough yet?
I tried that, and it didn't work out too well.
I stole an ID from an illegal immigrant, but when I gave it to the cop, it turns out I had only stolen my own ID back. *<];-')
He’s lucky to not have had his dog impounded permanently.
Are you implying that dogs on a leash don’t crap???
I think a major reason for this kind of thing is that they write tickets and such all day long for people who are not “traceable” - the vast army of illegals - and where the fines are not “collectible”. When they get a hold of someone who hass too much to lose over not paying the fines, they force him to pay 5 other peoples’ fines. It’s easier than actually correcting the pre-existing problem, So, yeah, I’d go along with lying to them whenever possible.
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