When Can A Florida Judge Impose Additional Costs As Part Of A Criminal Sentence?
A criminal conviction often means more than just potential jail time or probation. Many offenses also carry certain fines and additional court costs that must be paid as part of your sentence. These costs can quickly add up for defendants with limited financial resources, so it is crucial they not be assessed arbitrarily or capriciously.
A recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, Bartolone v. State, provides a helpful illustration. Prosecutors charged the defendant in this case with possession of cannabis with intent to sell. Police did not actually find any illegal drugs on the defendant’s person. Rather, a search of the defendant’s house recovered various drug paraphernalia with the defendant’s fingerprints. From this, the jury was allowed to infer the defendant had “constructive possession” of the cannabis and associated paraphernalia.
The trial court subsequently sentenced the defendant to 45 days in jail followed by 2 years of probation. In addition, the judge ordered the defendant to pay the following costs:
- $50 for the cost of the investigation;
- $200 for the cost of prosecution;
- $418 in court costs; and
- $125 to go to the Drug Abuse Trust Fund.
On appeal, the Fourth District upheld the defendant’s conviction, jail time, and probation, but struck down the various costs listed above. The appellate court explained the problem with each item as follows:
- The $50 for investigative costs was never requested by law enforcement, as required by state law, and the State Attorney here did not object to striking this item.
- The $200 for prosecution costs was excessive, because state law only authorizes $100 in costs for a felony case unless the State Attorney submits “sufficient proof of higher costs” as the sentencing hearing, which did not happen in this case.
- Similarly, state law caps court costs at $225 in felony cases unless the trial court makes specific findings justifying a higher amount, which again did not happen here.
- Finally, any assessment for the Drug Abuse Trust Fund must include a finding that the defendant actually “has the ability to pay the fine.” Since that did not happen, this fine was also invalid.
The Fourth District also denied the state’s request to resubmit the question of costs to the trial court. Last year the Florida Supreme Court held that when the State Attorney fails to request investigative costs before sentencing, it cannot later request them after the defendant successfully appeals. In plain terms, the prosecution is not allowed a “second bite at the apple” when it comes to fees and costs. The Fourth District said the same reasoning applied to this case.
Contact a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Even if you are convicted of a crime, or choose to plead guilty, you still have the right to challenge any excessive or illegal fines that a court may attempt to impose as part of your sentence. An experienced Tampa appeals and post-conviction relief lawyer can provide you with guidance and representation in this area. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to speak with a criminal defense attorney right away.