One of the least-discussed aspects of criminal cases can also be one of the most important: the financial cost of pleading guilty.
I’m not talking about hiring a lawyer. I’m also not talking about the ways that a guilty plea could impact a person’s career opportunities or job hunt.
I’m talking about the costs and fines that the court imposes when you are found guilty.
In this blog-series I will give a summary of the main ways that court costs, fines, and expenses are categorized in Tuscaloosa County criminal courts.
Court costs are sometimes used to refer to any and all money you have to pay to the court when you plead guilty. However, in the clerk’s office it’s used to refer to something specific.
When you are found guilty of an offense, the judge will tell you that you are responsible for certain fees, restitution if there is any, and other court costs. What the Judge is referring to are the administrative costs connected to your case. Simply put, there are a lot of expenses associated with running the clerk’s office. The “court costs” cover those expenses.
With other fees and fines you will have exact number amounts before your case is finalized, but that’s not the case for “court costs.” After you are found guilty, the judge will enter your plea paperwork into the computer. The clerk’s office will close your file and set to work calculating your “court costs” based on certain fact-specific information. Factors that influence court costs include things like how long a charge has been pending and whether subpoenas have been served.
Restitution is another word that people sometimes use as a catch-all to describe money you have to pay to the court. Like “court costs” it actually means something specific.
Restitution is the amount calculated to redress a victim’s loss. For example, say you are charged with criminal mischief in the third degree for knocking over someone’s $100.00 mailbox. The judge may order that restitution be paid to the victim in the amount of $100.00.
There are two important things to know about restitution. The first is this: you don’t have to agree to what the prosecutor is asking for. If you don’t want to agree to a certain restitution amount, the prosecutor may agree to leave it open and let the judge decide at a restitution hearing. Let’s go back to the mailbox example. Maybe the mailbox did cost $100.00 to buy new, but you happen to know that the victim only spent $10.00 to paint over where it had been scratched, and another $15.00 on a wooden post for it. At the hearing, your attorney might make that argument to the judge.
The second thing to know about restitution is that it is entirely separate from other court costs and fees. If you’re charged with possession of marijuana and you ask your lawyer what your restitution is. There’s a good chance that your lawyer’s answer will be “there is no restitution.” That doesn’t mean you won’t owe court costs or fees. If you plead guilty, you will. All it means is that you won’t owe anything to a specific victim because no property was damaged or stolen.
In sum, “court costs” refers to specific administrative expenses connected to the clerk’s office handling your case. Restitution refers to what you might owe a certain victim for damage to their property.
Part two will address the other fees and fines associated with pleading guilty to a charge in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
If you’ve been charged with a crime or have concerns that you would like to discuss with a lawyer, call the Browne House at 205-293-5293 for a free consultation.