Charged a Fee for Getting Arrested, Whether Guilty or Not

© Al Drago/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Corey Statham had $46 in his pockets when he was arrested in Ramsey County, Minn., and charged with disorderly conduct. He was released two days later, and the charges were dismissed.

But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear Mr. Statham’s challenge to Ramsey County’s fund-raising efforts, which are part of a national trend to extract fees and fines from people who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system.

Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.

An unusual coalition of civil rights organizations, criminal defense lawyers and conservative and libertarian groups have challenged these sorts of policies, saying they confiscate private property without constitutional protections and lock poor people into a cycle of fines, debts and jail.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a separate challenge to a Colorado law that makes it hard for criminal defendants whose convictions were overturned to obtain refunds of fines and restitution, often amounting to thousands of dollars. That case, Nelson v. Colorado, will be argued on Jan. 9.

The Colorado law requires people who want their money back to file a separate lawsuit and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

The sums at issue are smaller in Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul. But they are taken from people who have merely been arrested. Some of them will never be charged with a crime. Others, like Mr. Statham, will have the charges against them dismissed. Still others will be tried but acquitted.

It is all the same to the county, which does not return the $25 booking fee even if the arrest does not lead to a conviction. Instead, it requires people like Mr. Statham to submit evidence to prove they are entitled to get their money back.

When the case was argued last year before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Paul, a lawyer for the county acknowledged that its process was in tension with the presumption of innocence.

“There is some legwork involved,” the lawyer, Jason M. Hiveley said, but noted that it is possible for blameless people to get their $25 back. “They can do it as soon as they have the evidence that they haven’t been found guilty.”

The legwork proved too much for Mr. Statham. He never got his $25 back.

He did get a debit card for the remaining $21. But there was no practical way to extract his cash without paying some kind of fee. Among them: $1.50 a week for “maintenance” of the unwanted card, starting after 36 hours; $2.75 for using an A.T.M. to withdraw money; $3 for transferring the balance to a bank account; and $1.50 for checking the balance.

In its appeals court brief, the county said the debit cards were provided “for the convenience of the inmates,” who might find it hard to cash a check.

Mr. Statham is represented by Michael A. Carvin, a prominent conservative lawyer who has argued Supreme Court caseschallenging the Affordable Care Act and fees charged by public unions.

Mr. Carvin said the county’s motives were not rooted in solicitude for the people it had arrested. “Revenue-starved local governments are increasingly turning toward fees like Ramsey County’s in order to bridge their budgetary gaps,” he wrote in a Supreme Court brief. “But the unilateral decision of a single police officer cannot possibly justify summarily confiscating money.”

“Providing a profit motive to make arrests,” he said, “gives officers an incentive to make improper arrests.”

Ramsey County did not bother to submit a response in the Supreme Court. “We have not filed a brief in opposition to the petition, nor do we plan to,” Mr. Hiveley said in a Dec. 8 email. The county, he said, would take its chances before the justices without presenting its side of the story.

Six days later, the Supreme Court ordered the county to file a brief in the case, Mickelson v. County of Ramsey. It is due Jan. 13.

Through his lawyers, Mr. Statham declined a request for an interview. He lost in the lower courts, which said his right to due process had not been violated by the $25 booking charge or the debit card fees, which were both, the trial judge said, “relatively modest.”

It is true that $25 is not a lot of money — unless you are poor. It represents almost half a day’s work at the federal minimum wage, a federal judge wrote in a dissent in another case on booking fees, and it is nearly the average amount the government allots to help feed an adult for a week under the federal food-stamp program

In its appeals court brief, the county took a different view of the economic imperatives. “Municipal services,” the brief said, “come at a cost.”


Police Departments Find Yet New Ways to Steal People's Money


Michael A. Carvin, a lawyer who will represent Corey Statham, has argued previous cases before the Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act and fees charged by public. © Doug Mills/The New York Times

Adam Liptak tells us that the Supreme Court is pondering whether to hear a case from Ramsey County, Minnesota, which confiscates money from people it arrests. That's what happened to Corey Statham, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and then released:

But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.

....Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.

....Through his lawyers, Mr. Statham declined a request for an interview. He lost in the lower courts, which said his right to due process had not been violated by the $25 booking charge or the debit card fees, which were both, the trial judge said, “relatively modest.”

Lovely. It's OK to confiscate money as long as you don't confiscate too much. Unless, of course, you're engaged in civil asset forfeiture, in which case the sky's the limit. All you have to do is attend one of the many classes that teach your police officers how best to steal people's money under the pretense that they "just know" it's drug money.

I continue to be gobsmacked by all of this. I've heard all the arguments about due process and civil vs. criminal and so forth, and not a single word of it strikes me as anything but an obvious sham. And yet courts—all the way to the Supreme Court—and judicial agencies—all the way to the Department of Justice—accept them without blinking. It's the kind of thing that makes me wonder if I'm stuck in some kind of Kafka-based virtual reality. How can something so obviously wrong be approved with a shrug by so many people?


Arrest Booking Fee

In accordance with the City of Westminster Municipal Code 1.31.010/1.13.030 and Government Code Section 29550.1/29550.3, at the time of your sentencing, the State of California Superior Court may order a criminal justice administrative fee as part of your penalties.  This is also called the Arrest Booking Fee. The Westminster Police Department jail facility provided you a courtesy notice at the time of your arrest indicating that a an "Order for payment of  a criminal justice administration fee" may be imposed.  The fee is:

$206.58  - Arrest Booking Fee
$25.00    - Arrest (Released on Own Recognizance)
$10.00    - Arrest (Cite & Release)

At the time of your sentencing, if you plead or are found guilty (convicted), you will be ordered by the judge to make payment of any fees associated to the arrest or detention process.

Failure to make payment of these fees after your conviction may result with a warrant for violation of a court order.  You do not have to pay this fee until you are convicted of the crime and ordered by the court to make payment. Once ordered, you will be sent a letter from our Citation processing company to make payment. You will have thirty (30) days to make this payment.

The City of Westminster Police Department provides online payment services at www.paymycite.com/westminster or by mail to:

City of Westminster - Arrest Booking Fee
c/o Citation Service Center
P.O. Box 11370
Santa Ana, CA 92711

Online Payments

The City of Westminster provides online services. Online Bill Pay provides a secure and environmentally friendly and efficient way of making payments using a credit card. The City of Westminster accepts Visa, Master Card, Discover and debit card payments via our on-line processing company at www.paymycite/Westminster.

Check or Money Order Payments

The City of Westminster Police Department accepts checks or money order payments mailed to the above address, or made in person at our office located at 8200 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683. Your check or money order will be forwarded to the processing company.

GC Section 29550.3 - Authority to Recover Booking Fees

"Any city is entitled to recover administrative costs it incurs in conjunction with the arrest if the person is convicted of any criminal offense related to the arrest, whether or not it is the offense for which the person was booked."

City of Westminster Ordinance (WMC 1.13.010 / 1.13.030)

As of July 1, 2009, the City of Westminster has established the Criminal Justice Administration Fee. You are notified at the time of your booking or by mail of the Arrest Booking Fee due.

Privacy Act Notice: (5 U.S.C. Section 552a)

Disclosure of your social security number is required by California Government Code section 68107 and by court policy. Social Security numbers are used by the courts and other government agencies to verify identity and to assist in the collection of court-ordered fees, fines, and penalties. Any Social Security number disclosed pursuant to G.C. Section 68107 is not a public record.





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