Can You Be Thrown in Jail For Not Paying a Fine in a Criminal or DUI Case?

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A question that is often asked is whether a Judge can throw someone in jail for not paying a Court ordered fine in a criminal or traffic case in the state of California.  The answer may surprise you.  Under CA law, a sentence in a criminal case requiring the defendant to pay a fine immediately or within a limited time or in installments on specified dates may also direct that, if the defendant fails to pay as required, the defendant may be imprisoned until the defaulted installment is satisfied or until the fine is satisfied in full.  The judgment may further direct that im-prisonment for failure to pay a fine will begin at, or continue after, the expiration of any imprisonment imposed as a part of the punishment or of any other imprisonment to which the defendant may previously have been sentenced. The sentence handed down must specify the extent of imprisonment for nonpayment, which cannot exceed the maximum term for which the defendant could be sentenced to jail for the offense, according to the Judge’s Benchguide.  A defendant who is throw in jail must receive credit on the fine for each day he or she is held in custody for nonpayment at the rate specified in the judgment.  The minimum conversion rate is 30 dollars per day.

Restitution fines and restitution orders  may not be converted to jail time under the provisions of the Penal Code.  According to one Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorney, the assessments and penalties that make up up any given fine can substantially outweigh the base fine itself.  For example in a typical DUI case, the base fine is $390 but the penalties and assessments cause the total to often exceed $2000.  When the court sentences a person who was under 21 years of age at the time of the arrest to the payment of a fine and the fine is not paid, the court may remit the fine in whole or in part, or commit the defendant to a place of confinement approved by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Juvenile Justice to serve a term until the fine is satisfied. The court may not imprison a defendant for nonpayment when the failure results from the defendant’s indigency rather than a refusal to pay.  An indigent defendant must be provided alternatives to imprisonment similar to those available to a nonindigent offender.  The court may direct the indigent defendant to pay the fine in installments or perform specified work to satisfy the fine.  If the defendant refuses to utilize these alternatives, or fails to meet the conditions of the offered alternative, the defendant’s indigency ceases to be dispositive, and the defendant may be imprisoned. In determining whether a defendant is financially unable to pay a fine, the court may consider such factors as the defendant’s income, bank accounts, ownership of a home, car, or other tangible or intangible property, the number of dependents, the cost of sustenance for the defendant and his or her dependents, and the amount of the fine.  The court is not required to allow the defendant to prefer his or her creditors to the obligation to the state for payment of the fine, nor is it required to allow the defendant to maintain the same standard of living to which the defendant has become accustomed.  If anyone is facing a criminal charge such as a drunk driving or similar type offense, it may be smart to consult a lawyer who handles these types of cases.  Matthew Ruff is a Long Beach DUI Attorney that has been practicing for well over 15 years and can help guide you through the process.

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