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Law & Order: Hundreds of thousands spent in court costs

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News Dickinson,North Dakota 58602 http://www.thedickinsonpress.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/32/1024/0210-money-gavel.jpg?itok=1Ap4hHVR
The Dickinson Press
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Law & Order: Hundreds of thousands spent in court costs
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

The court system delivers justice but it does not deliver a windfall payday.

"The fines and fees, by the way, all go to the state," Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said. "The counties in which these actions are held, there isn't any direct pay back."

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It's hard to predict how much the prosecution of a DUI or domestic violence case will cost because of different paths legal action can take, he said.

"If they plead guilty, then you've got some time in front of a judge and then you're done," Henning said. "But if they don't plead guilty, then you may have court-appointed council."

Those qualifying will obtain a court-appointed attorney, which bills at about $75 per hour. Other fees include the cost of a judge, who is paid a salary, a clerk, the prosecution and possibly a jury, he said.

"The jail bills us $100 per defendant that appears by interactive TV -- that's just black and white," Henning said. "That's just the cost to having them appear as opposed to having them transported down (to the Stark County Courthouse.)"

His office doesn't keep track of how much time is spent on each case, he said.

"If I were to try to do time records, I'd have to have at least another attorney," Henning said. "Because the amount of time you'd lose doing the equivalent of billing slips, it would really cut into our time."

The Stark County State's Attorney's Office used $343,660 in 2011, he said. It was still working on its end-of-year reports for 2012.

For 2013 Dickinson has more than $250,000 budgeted to run its municipal court, and another $250,000 budgeted for attorney fees to Ebeltoft Sickler Lawyers to cover both city legal services and prosecution in municipal court, according to budget documents.

The DPD is budgeted for less than $5 million.

In 2012, the city collected $364,672 in fines and fees in municipal court, finance director Tina Johnson said. It does count fines and fees into its budget, but uses the past year's amount. In 2011, it collected $197,978. The 2013 budget amount will be around $350,000.

Dickinson municipal court handles traffic fines, infractions, administrative/non-criminal offenses, parking violations and Class B misdemeanors written on city codes. This includes first and second DUI charges within five years.

Of the cases that started and ended in 2012, municipal court convicted 106 DUIs and dismissed 14 because it was a third offense or blood alcohol level was under .08 percent, according to information provided by Municipal Clerk of Court Karen Buresh.

For a first DUI offense, those convicted are sentenced to a fine of at least $250 and an order for addiction evaluation by a licensed addiction treatment program, according to North Dakota Century Code. A second offense within five years includes at least five days imprisonment or 30 days community service and a fine of at least $500 and an order for addiction evaluation by a licensed addiction treatment program.

Not all DUI arrests result in a DUI conviction, Buresh said. Some are knocked down to reckless driving, which is also a Class B misdemeanor.

The county adds any fines, fees or other charges the SCSO collects to its general fund, auditor Kay Haag said. Last year it collected $34,336 from it. The SCSO budget was more than $1.2 million, but went over by 6.18 percent.

"I don't know that you could ever get the fees to cover the cost of law enforcement," Henning said. "The cost of law enforcement is something that has to be spread across society because if we want to have a free and orderly society, we have to have somebody enforcing the rules."

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Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206
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