Monday, March 21, 2011

Costs on Conviction

Ted Wood at OCA helps us all make sense of filing fees and court costs; he maintains a body of manuals for clerks on our page of Publications & Forms.  Below I am providing his guide to bills that would raise fees upon conviction of various offenses.
A typical speeding conviction in municipal court results in $97.10 in mandatory court costs. In justice court the costs are a dollar more. These court costs do not include fines. (The amount of the fine is up to the judge or jury and can range from $1 to $200.)
Seven bills would serve to increase court costs in speeding cases. If all seven pass, court costs will rise $39 to $137.10 in most justice courts and $32 to $129.10 in most municipal courts:
HB 258 $15 increase in “state traffic fine” (actually a court cost) from $30 to $45.
2/3 of revenue to State’s General Fund; 1/3 to State for trauma and emergency medical services.
HB 331 $1 new cost in municipal courts. Money used for interpreter services, mental health and counseling, ADA modifications, attorney fees for indigent defendants, and judicial education.
HB 395 $5 increase in courthouse security fee (from $4 to $9) and municipal court building security fee ($3 to $8). Money used for court security. HB 777, SB 606, HB 904, & SB 1677 are similar.
HB 1261 $1 increase in municipal court technology fund (from $4 to $5).
HB 2344 $2 new cost in justice courts. money directed to county law enforcement technology fund.
SB 607 $7 new cost in counties with at least 100,000 population (except for Harris County which already can assess this cost). Counties choose whether to impose the cost – most probably will. Money stays with county - no limitations on use.
SB 726 $10 new cost in municipal and justice courts (in cases other than parking and pedestrian cases). Money directed to State “Judicial Access and Improvement Account” to support civil legal services for indigents, indigent defense, state court e-filing, and the state law library.
HB 2174 is an alternative to SB 726 that would direct $5 instead of $10 to the same places.

A typical Class B Misdemeanor DWI charge will set a person back $397.10 for court costs alone. A fine can be as much as $2,000 on top of the court costs. And a defendant must generally pay a “surcharge” of $1,000 per year for three years to keep his or her driver’s license. (Several bills have been filed that would eliminate the surcharges.)
Two bills would add $50 to DWI court costs. If both bills pass, the court costs for a DWI would increase from $397.10 to $447.10.
HB 395 has already been mentioned in the discussion of speeding cases above. The second bill is:
HB 933 $45 new court cost assessed in DWI and certain other intoxication cases. Money retained by county for certified breath alcohol testing program.

Felony Property Offenses (Arson, Burglary, Robbery, Theft)
Current court costs total $214. Any fine assessed is on top of the court costs.
Three bills would add $45 to the court costs for a new total of $259. The three bills include the previously-mentioned HB 395. The two other bills are:
HB 2065 $15 new court cost on property offenses such as arson, robbery, burglary, and theft. Money would be go to both the State and county for pretrial victim- offender mediation programs.
SB 1616 $25 new court cost on all felonies. Money would go to State’s “biological evidence preservation account.”

Drug Offenses
Court costs for a typical felony drug offense already total $294. This does not include the amount of any fine that may be assessed.
There are three bills that would nearly double the amount of the court costs in this type of case. The new court cost total would be $524, a $230 increase.
HB 395 has been discussed previously as has SB 1616.
SB 994 $200 new court cost on any felony drug offense. Money would be directed to the State for general law enforcement purposes.

Compelling Prostitution
Court costs for this offense are already quite high - $484. If four relevant bills pass, that amount will
climb $140 higher to $624, a 29% increase.
HB 395 and SB 1616 have been mentioned before. The following two bills have not yet been
HB 3746 $10 new court cost on crimes for which the defendant is required to register as a sex offender. Money goes to State for deposit in the “Internet Crimes Against Children Fund” which would be used to support the administration of the activities of three existing Internet Crimes Against Children task forces that are operated by the attorney general and other law enforcement entities. SB 1843 does the same thing.
HB 2014 $100 new court cost on offense of compelling prostitution or trafficking of persons. 50% of money would be retained by county for deposit in a “trafficking of persons and compelling prostitution prevention fund”; 50% of money to State for unspecified purposes]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Performance Guidelines for Non-Capital Criminal Defense Representation

I am happy to serve on the State Bar's Standing Committee on Legal Services to the Poor in Criminal Matters.  That committee has developed and just released a digestible but comprehensive guide to criminal practice in Texas state court from the time of initial representation in trial-level proceedings to the exhaustion of direct review before the Court of Criminal Appeals.  The guidelines seek to encourage defense attorneys to perform to a high standard of representation and to promote professionalism in the representation of indigent defendants. The committee previously published Guidelines and Standards for Texas Capital Counsel and is on the verge of releasing a brochure for distribution statewide, to provide information to defendants considering representing themselves in misdemeanor criminal cases.