Velia Duenas, a homeless, married mother of two children, had her license suspended because she was unable to pay $1088 for three juvenile citations. She continued to drive, received three misdemeanor convictions, and spent 141 days in jail because she was unable to pay the fines. In 2015, she pled no contest to another misdemeanor charge for driving with a suspended license and was sentenced to a $300 fine with 36 months summary probation. Unable to pay the fine, she spent nine additional days in jail. The court also imposed a $30 court facilities fee, a $40 court operations assessment, and a $150 restitution fine. At an ability to pay hearing in March 2016, the court waived the attorneys’ fees imposed in a previous case but determined that the court facilities and operations fees were mandatory, and the restitution fee could not be waived. Ms. Duenas was ordered to pay $220 by February 2019.
Imposing unpayable fines on indigent defendants is not only unfair, it serves no rational purpose, fails to further the legislative intent, and may be counterproductive.
The court facilities fee and the court operations fee were enacted to raise funds for California courts and were not meant to be punitive. However, they are punitive when applied to those who are unable to pay. The imposition of these fees on those who are unable to pay is a violation of an indigent person’s Fourteenth Amendment rights. The order imposing these fees was reversed.
The Restitution fine is meant to be punitive and is a part of probation. While the statute instructs that inability to pay is an illegitimate consideration when imposing the minimum restitution fine, the court must stay the execution of the fine unless and until the People show the defendant is able to pay the fine.