Headed to court? It may cost more soon

Published 12:04 am Thursday, May 24, 2012

Breaking the law could get more expensive in Alabama, if Gov. Robert Bentley signs a bill that raises court fees and adds a fee for bail bonds.

The law, which gained final passage just minutes before the Alabama legislature ended its 2012 regular session, is expected to generate $40 million for the state’s court system, if the governor signs it.

The bill:

• Increases the fees for a speeding ticket by $26, with $24 going to the state and $2 to the police officers’ annuity fund. If the ticket goes through a municipal court, the $26 is split with $14 going to the state, $10 to the city and $2 to the police annuity fund. If approved, the total fees for a traffic ticket in Covington County Circuit Court would increase from $114 to $140.

• Increases the court fees for criminal court by $40, and court fees for civil court by $45. At present, court costs range from $271 for a circuit court criminal case to $302 for a circuit court civil case.

• Adds a $35 fee to bail bonds to be paid by the person making the bond. If convicted, another fee would be added – $100 to $450 for a misdemeanor and $150 to $750 for a felony.

Alabama Chief Justice Chuck Malone, formerly the governor’s chief of staff, said the state’s judicial system could lose 500 employees to layoffs if the bill doesn’t become law.

Previously, Bentley has said he opposed any new taxes, including those assessed as fees.

Still, local court officials aren’t sure how the new fees would affect their offices if approved.

Covington County Circuit Clerk Roger Powell said it’s too soon to know how the legislation will affect the clerk’s office.

“It’s not a simple matter,” he said.

Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell explained that the court cost increases would fund the Administrative Office of Courts. The Office of Prosecution Services budget, which funds district attorneys offices across the state, will get a portion of the bail bond fees.

“We will only receive funds from bonds made in Covington County,” he said. “I haven’t seen the final bill that passed, but I’m told the DA will receive somewhere around 33 percent of the revenue generated.”

The bill includes a sunset provision that will terminate the fees in three years, he said.

“The jail bond bill will probably not generate much revenue for our office in the near future,” he said. “Even if we do 1,000 bonds per year, at one-third of $35, that comes to $11,000-plus. That helps, but still leaves us at a level of funding that makes it difficult to meet the task at hand – prosecuting cases.”

The back-end fees are typically paid in monthly payments, he said.

“The back-end bail bond fees will trickle in over a long period of time,” he said.