This 84th edition of Justice For All is about the distribution of court revenue, or in other words, where the money goes when a criminal defendant pays a financial penalty.
Iowa Code Chapter 602.8107 (2)(c) has a priority order of payment schedule which means when a defendant owes money for more than one thing and he or she goes on a payment plan, which happens in many criminal cases, the priority schedule tells the clerk where to apply a payment to. The order of priority is: pecuniary damages (also known as victim restitution), then fines and surcharges, then to the crime victim compensation program if they were involved, then to all remaining court costs, jail fees, and court appointed attorney fee reimbursement.
For example, a defendant convicted of theft may owe $315 in fines, $235 in surcharges, $100 in court costs, $280 in victim restitution, $150 in jail fees, and $120 in court appointed attorney fee restitution for a total of $1,200. The defendant enters a payment plan requiring $100 per month payments for 12 months. According to the priority schedule, the clerk distributes the first two $100 payments to the victim with $80 of the third payment going to the victim to fully pay off that obligation. The remaining $20 of the third payment goes towards fines and surcharges as will subsequent payments until all the fines and surcharges are fully paid. The last payments will be split between court costs, jail fees, and court appointed attorney fees.
Nearly all money that’s collected outside of victim restitution and jail fees is deposited into the State General Fund in Des Moines. Fine money, court costs, and civil penalties, which are imposed when the defendant receives a deferred judgment, all go 100% to the State General Fund. Every fine has a mandatory 35% surcharge which goes 95% to the State and 5% to the city or county that was the plaintiff in the action with 17% of the State’s share going into the victim compensation fund and the remaining 83% going to the State General Fund.
In addition to the mandatory 35% surcharge, some crimes come with a $125 law enforcement initiative surcharge and/or a $10 drug abuse resistance education (“DARE”) surcharge. The money collected from both of those surcharges also goes to the State General Fund with the DARE surcharges appropriated to the governor’s office of drug control policy for use by the drug abuse resistance education program and other programs directed for a similar purpose.
If a defendant becomes delinquent on their payments then my office has the ability to work with him or her to get back on a payment plan. In exchange for my office’s efforts in this area Clayton County gets to keep a portion of the money collected as opposed to everything going to the State General Fund in Des Moines. An update on the success of the fine collections program will be the topic of next month’s Justice For All.