You are charged with a crime. You are savvy and do some research of your own and learn the crime you are charged with carries a minimum fine of $500. So why does your ticket have the dollar amount over $1,000?
Is the Court trying to railroad you and “get their money’s worth” out of you? Did you know that the Court may charge surcharges, fees and costs that are over 100% of your fine?
Some law enforcement officers and deputies write a number with a dollar amount on the blue traffic tickets they issue. The enormous dollar amount you see may have you wondering how you can afford an attorney and pay the fine. But did you know you may not end up paying the amount written on the ticket?
This article will let you know some of the secrets the court, police, and prosecutor may not tell you. And at the end of the day, you are left holding the bag with enormous fees and you may not even understand why or how they are calculated. You may be faced with either paying the full fine or going to jail.
Common Questions About Court Costs in SC
1. What are court fees?
The fees that the court imposes in addition to the fine associated with your case. They include court surcharges, fees, and costs. They cannot be waived, reduced or suspended. You can count on having to pay those costs if you are found guilty or plead guilty to your criminal charge.
2. How are court fees determined?
Fees and costs are determined by the individual court where your case is pending.
3. How are surcharges determined?
The court surcharge amount is determined by statute. It is the dollar amount that is added to a fine for the criminal case. Currently that standard amount is 107.5%.That means your criminal fine doubles!
For example, let’s say you blew more than a .15 on a DUI 1st. Your base fine would be $1,000. That’s a lot of money, but you still have to pay more. The court would multiply $1,000 (criminal fine) and 107.5% (court costs) to get a total of $1,070.00. Then the court would add the $1,000 from your criminal fine with the $1,070 in court costs for a grand total of $2,070.
And there will be even more charges added to the $2,070 surcharge. Fees, assessments and costs are set by the Court and by the laws in SC.
4. How much are court costs?
There is no point blank answer. Courts, lawyers, and/or police are not purposely hiding this answer from you. It is a grey area because the amount can vary, depending on the court you are in. We do know for certain that the surcharge is 107.5%. The court fees and costs added to this will depend on the court. The 107.5% amount is set by SC law/ statute. This amount is as of February 8, 2015 and is subject to change by the Legislature.
Now let’s get into the specifics.
What are the court costs for…
- A DUI?
In SC you may pay a fine for a DUI plus fees and costs. How high the fine part is depends upon how high your BAC was when you were arrested. You can read the full answer to this question here.
- A traffic ticket or a case in Magistrate, Municipal, Summary or Central Traffic Court?
The amount varies, depending on the fine of your criminal charge. If you pay a fine for the criminal charge, you will also be paying 107% in surcharges, plus costs and fees.
- A case in juvenile court?
There are no court costs, fees, or surcharges for juvenile criminal cases in family court (the person charged with the crime must be under the age of 16).
- A criminal case in General Sessions court?
This varies, depending on the fine for your criminal charge. You will also have to pay supervision fees in addition to fees and costs if you receive probation. If you have a public defender, you will have to pay additional money to the State Public Defender Fund.
5. What is an assessment?
It is a cost that you must pay that is based on the part of your fine that is not suspended. It cannot be reduced, waived or suspended.
6. Who has to pay court costs?
The person who is charged with the crime has to pay the court costs.
7. Do I have to pay court costs if I won my case?
No. If you are found not guilty or if your attorney gets your case dismissed, you do not owe court costs.
8. How long do I have to pay my court costs?
Assume the grand total is due at the court proceeding. Some judges offer payment plans, but this is a privilege and not a right. Not all judges offer payment plans. Never assume you are entitled to a payment plan. Even if the Judge allows a payment plan, never assume the payment plan will fit your budget. If there is a payment plan, it will be on the Judge’s terms, not yours.
9. I don’t have all the money right now. Can I be put on a payment plan to pay my court costs?
This will be up to the Judge who’s on the bench when you go to Court.
10. What happens if I can’t pay my court costs?
The Judge typically will give you a jail sentence, then suspend it upon payment of your total amount due. If you do not abide by the terms of the payment plan, a bench warrant may be issued for your arrest. This means you may go to jail. That is why you should make paying court costs your top priority. You do not have a right to payment plans; do not abuse this privilege. There may be other consequences for not paying fees and costs, such as your driver’s license being suspended. This depends on your original criminal charge.
11. How do I pay court costs?
This will vary, depending on which court you are in. Some courts accept cash, certified checks, credit cards, debit cards. Be sure to get a receipt from the court when you pay your fines and costs, no matter what. Keep the receipt in a safe place in case you need it later. Clerks in courts are human beings, meaning they make mistakes in entering information, and you definitely don’t want to pay the fees twice. Computer glitches can happen. Be prepared to defend yourself with the paid receipt in hand. It will be your word against theirs, especially if a bench warrant is issued in error.
12. Do I have to pay for the court reporter?
Generally, no. If there is a court reporter present, the court reporter is employed by and paid by the Court.
Family Court (Juvenile criminal court) always has court reporters and they are paid by the State. Some court reporters are assigned to certain judges and travel to the same courts where the particular judge is assigned.
General Sessions Court always has court reporters and they are paid by the State.
Generally, lower courts, such as magistrate and municipal courts do not have court reporters. Instead, the courts have recording devices. The recording devices do not work 100% of the time and the recordings are not saved and/or not always available. So, if you wish to have your magistrate, summary or municipal court hearing recorded by a court reporter, you can pay to have your own court reporter there. Your attorney can help you find a court reporter.
13. Are court costs tax deductible?
No. Unfortunately court costs are not tax deductible.
You may want to “just pay the fine” and get this over with. But did you realize that paying a fine is the same as pleading guilty? Pleading guilty will result in this ticket/ crime being on your criminal or driving record. Once something is on your criminal or driving record, there may be no way to get it removed or expunged. A criminal defense attorney can discuss your options with you.
If your attorney can get the ticket dismissed or reduced, you will not end up paying the amount that is written on your ticket. Also, there might be other options than paying a fine, such as completing community service hours, or receiving a time served sentence. If you receive a time served sentence, you will not spend any more time in jail than you already have; you will get credit for the time you have already served instead of paying a fine. Your attorney can discuss different options with you.
If you are facing charges and have questions about your case, consider contacting an attorney. Having a defense attorney by your side through this process could make all the difference.
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