Ninety-seven dollars? For a simple speeding ticket? Why so much? Why such an odd number?
And where does all that money go, anyway?
A ticket for speeding or other traffic violations won't necessarily cost that amount in Orange County--it may be more, it may be less, although it probably won't be anywhere near the $200 or $300 bail amount indicated on the ticket itself. But let's use that $97--a typical fine the day we spent in court--to illustrate how it all breaks down and how dramatically the cost of a traffic ticket has gone up in recent years.
Just $35 of that $97 is the fine itself. The agency that issued the citation--a city, the county or the state--will receive 85% of the fine ($29.75), with the remaining 15% ($5.25) going to the county general fund.
The rest of the charge is made up of assessments, surcharges placed on fines by the state Legislature and the County Board of Supervisors for various purposes.
Fines haven't changed much over the years, says Commissioner Richard Sullivan of Orange County Harbor Municipal Court. If anything, they've gone down, at least in Sullivan's court.
But the assessments are a different story. In 1966, violators paid an extra $2 for every $10 or portion thereof, which went to the Peace Officers Training Fund.
By the beginning of 1981, the surcharge was up to $3 for every $10 (or portion) in fines. Six months later, they rose to $4.50, then to $6 in 1982, $8 in 1984, $10 in 1987, $14.50 in 1988 and $15.50 as of Jan. 1, 1989. Assessments may be imposed at any time by the Legislature or county supervisors, according to Sullivan, and taxpayer approval is not required.
To make matters worse, assessments are charged on every $10 or portion thereof, which means that even if your fine is just $1, you pay $15.50 in assessments. If it's $11, you pay $31 in assessments.
Here's the breakdown, according to James R. Peterson, court administrator for Harbor Municipal Court.
The state treasury gets $28 of your $97, or $7 for every $10 of the actual fine (in this case, $35), where it is divided thusly:
The Fish & Game Preservation Fund gets 10.64 cents, or .38% of the state's share.
The Restitution Fund gets $6.1936, or 22.12%.
The Peace Officers Training Fund receives $7.77, or 27.75%.
The Driver Training Penalty Assessment Fund gets $8.3244, or 29.73%.
The Corrections Training Fund receives $2.5536, or 9.12%.
The Local Public Prosecutors & Public Defenders Training Fund gets 25 cents, plus 0.2 of a cent.
The Victim Assistance Fund receives $2.80, or 10%.
Then the county takes its share, dividing the remaining $34 among these funds:
The Justice Facilities Fund receives $8 (23.53%).
The Courthouse Construction Fund receives $8 (23.53%).
The Orange County Transition Planning Fund receives $4 (11.765%).
The Orange County Automated Fingerprint Fund receives $2 (5.88%).
The Emergency Medical Service Fund of Orange County gets $8 (23.53%).
The last $4 (11.765%) goes to help pay for night court. All offenders are assessed that amount, no matter what time of day they go to court.
Assessments are charged on any fine, whether related to traffic or not, Peterson says. And if you get a ticket in another county, the assessments may add up to a higher or lower amount, even if the fine is the same.
Sullivan says many people are upset with the commissioners and judges because their tickets cost so much. "But we have no control over it," he says.
Sullivan and his colleagues on the bench do have discretion on the fine amounts; he says he often uses that discretion to keep the total cost down for those who appear before him.
"I think in terms of the total dollars and cents," he says. "As the assessments go up, my fines go down, so I don't have these things going up to a couple hundred dollars."