Paying the Price: The Fine (and alternatives to paying the fine)

The minimum fine for a DUI in Los Angeles County is $390. Most likely if you plead out, and/or had no priors, this should be about what you were given in your sentencing.

So, naturally, when you get your documentation you receive a “Compliance of Fine Payment/Cashier Slip” detailing your fine and the various “court costs” associated with your case.

With court costs your $390 fine comes out to be around $2000.

Huh? How’d that happen?

When you think “court costs” you think that you’re being charged for the administrative system, much like the costs associated with getting your driver’s license or getting a permit to do construction. This is not the case.

Instead, the court costs are little fees that they tack on to every conviction to use it as a source of income. Some of this does go to cover Judge’s salaries and the infrastructure of the building, but most of it is used to make up budget shortfalls caused by the public electing to lower taxes (or voting in officials who lower taxes). Lower taxes, higher fines.

The biggest part of the fine is the “Penalty Assessment”. This is assessed on
all criminal fines, not just DUI fines. Get a speeding ticket - it’ll be on there.

Originally in the 1950s the rate of the Penalty Assessment was $1 for ever $20 of your fine. Mine was a little over $30 for every $10 of my penalty.

Additionally, there’s a “Penalty Assessment DNA” which funds DNA identification programs supposedly. Mine was around 1/3rd of my original penalty.

Believe me, how these rates are determined and what the money goes to is incredibly hard to research. For any rate I find online I do the math on my penalties and they don’t quite add up. Some are more, some are less. There’s not much you can do about this, but it would be nice to have some transparency during this part of the process. Alas, that’s not what they want.

The math of the form is difficult to add up - some numbers are listed, giving you a balance for them, but are supposedly included in the base fine - but that doesn’t mean they’re additional listings. If the fine that you agreed to from the court was $390, they’ll list the base fine as $320. Then you have items RESTDUI ($20 - no idea why it’s separate or what it’s for) and LABSVCS ($50 - believe this to be them charging you to use the station breathalyzer) claiming to be part of the base fine, but listed separately. It’s all designed to confuse you.

Trying to research this piece, I hit a lot of dead ends, and can’t find answers. I was charged $75 for PBHEALTH which states that it has a maximum of $100. What determines why mine was $75?

I asked my lawyer about it. He told me not to worry too much about it. He’d looked it over and it was in line with what the others looked like.

I guess you can worry too much about this sort of thing. Fighting any part of it would be an extreme uphill battle.

Alternate Options (and why they’re no good)

On your sentencing form you’ll see a part that says that you will pay a fine or “in default thereof serve ___ additional days in County jail, consecutive,
or perform ___ days of community labor”. Some people’s brain starts turning when they see this - with jails and prisons overcrowding you can often serve at 3:1 ratios (meaning you get credit for 3 days when you serve only 1), and sometimes even get 4:1.

Might it be worth it to give up a weekend or two to save a couple of grand? It seems kind of tempting.

Unfortunately, like most of the bright ideas you come up with to get out of things, it doesn’t work like that.

Serving jail time or doing community labor (which has it’s own difficulties, overcrowding means that you can’t serve that day instead of getting more credit for less) only counts against the base penalty of your fine. The court costs will still be there. In that case, a day in jail only counts for about $35.

Not worth it.

Additionally, some people try to get house arrest to either pay the fine, or count as their probation (more on that later), which isn’t ideal either - then you have to serve out the
full time, no ratios. So 15 days means 15 days (plus the fees for the monitoring bracelet add on, so it’s just a losing proposition).

How to Pay

For once, something in this whole process is simple. If you head down to the clerk’s office, you can pay with cash or a money order, which I expected, but, they’ll even take a personal check and some will even take a credit card.

If you have a check or money order, you can either give it to your lawyer or mail it to the county clerk’s office. If you want to pay cash or with a credit card, you have to go down there. Some places allow you to do this online, but, sadly, Los Angeles is not yet one of them. As with any civil service, expect to wait in line for a while to do a three minute procedure. Be sure to have your documents with you, as they need a lot of information to process your payment.

Payment can be done in a lump sum, or installments if you don’t have the resources. As long as the court is getting something, they’re willing to work with you.

It stings. It certainly does. But, once you’ve paid, you’re closer to getting this behind you.