The full question as posed by Dickson Baldridge of Wilmington:
“I got a ticket for running a stop sign that imposed a $50 fine. Since I was guilty I went to the courthouse to pay the fine, but they said I also had to pay court costs of $141. That doesn’t seem fair. If I don’t go to court, why do I have to pay court costs?”
And the answer:
District Court Judge Rebecca Blackmore said Baldridge isn’t alone in his concerns about court costs.
“I think everyone around has a concern about court costs being so high these days,” she said. “The legislature has just raised them twice in the last few months.”
Sharon Gladwell, communications director with the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, said that even if you pay a fine in person or online, “someone in the clerk’s office still has to do some transactional work with that payment.”
“It still requires staff time to process the fee,” she said.
John Smith, director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and a former special Superior Court judge in New Hanover County, said court costs are paid into the state’s general fund. They make up about 40 percent to 45 percent of the appropriated budget for the courts, he said, with the rest coming from general revenue, or taxes.
Baldridge was lucky. Court costs were raised on July 1, 2011, as part of the state’s new budget for the fiscal year and again on Aug. 1, 2011, to include changes included in the Justice Reinvestment Act, which revised sentencing guidelines and probation rules with the aim of reducing the number of people housed in prisons. That act was not passed until after the state budget was adopted, Smith said.
That’s why there were two increases in as many months.
Smith said in past years, the Administrative Office of the Courts would have had until October to change the costs.
But, he said, lawmakers needed to start collecting the increased costs as soon as possible to balance the budget.
Court costs vary, depending on the type of offense and other factors, said Troy Page, assistant counsel at the Administrative Office of the Courts.
If Baldridge had received his ticket after Aug. 1, 2011, his court costs would have been $178.
For more information on court costs, visit the Administrative Office of the Courts online at nccourts.org.
Date posted: August 8, 2011
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