The Administrative Office of the Courts recently submitted two reports on criminal cost waivers to the General Assembly. The first report covers court cost waivers under G.S. 7A-304(a). The other is about costs remitted upon remand from superior court to district court under G.S. 15A-1431(h). Both reports sort waivers by district or county and by individual judge.
Let’s look first at the criminal cost waiver report, available here. The AOC is required by law to make the report to the General Assembly annually. G.S. 7A-350. Technically, it is required to include only just cause waivers of court costs under G.S. 7A-304(a). I sometimes refer to those costs as true court costs, to distinguish them from the various other monetary obligations that might apply in any case, like fines, restitution, and attorney fees. True court costs are those spelled out in G.S. 7A-304(a) or incorporated by reference therein. They are:
- Service of process ($5)
- Facilities ($12 district court; $30 superior court)
- Court Information Technology Fund ($4)
- Law enforcement officer retirement and insurance ($6.25)
- Sheriffs’ supplemental pension ($1.25)
- Criminal Justice Standards Commission ($2)
- General Court of Justice support ($147.50 district court; $154.50 superior court; both to be assessed on a person convicted of a felony in superior court if he or she made a first appearance in district court)
- General Court of Justice support for Chapter 20 offenses ($10)
- Additional support of the General Court of Justice for Chapter 20 offenses resulting in an improper equipment conviction ($50)
- Pretrial release services ($15)
- General Court of Justice for defendants who fail to appear ($200)
- General Court of Justice for defendants who fail to pay a fine, penalty, or cost ($50)
- State crime lab ($600)
- Local government crime lab ($600)
- DNA databank ($2)
- General Court of Justice for impaired driving offenses ($100)
- State Crime Lab expert witness providing chemical or forensic analysis and testifying at trial ($600)
- Local government crime lab expert witness providing chemical or forensic analysis and testifying at trial ($600)
- Contract private hospital expert witness toxicology testing and testifying at trial ($600)
- Witness fees (as provided in G.S. 7A-314)
- Blood test fees for parentage (as provided in G.S. 8-50.1)
- Jail fees as provided in G.S. 7A-313 ($10 per day of pretrial confinement, but NOT the $40 per day probationary confinement fee)
- Trial transcript fee
- Installment payment setup fee ($20)
That is the “complete and exclusive” list of true court costs, G.S. 7A-320, and the only items for which G.S. 7A-304(a) requires “a written order, supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law, determining that there is just cause” to be waived. Other monetary obligations can be waived, remitted, or exempted as otherwise provided by law. For example, a judge can exempt a probationer from probation supervision fees as provided in G.S. 15A-1343(c1)—with no G.S. 7A-304(a) just cause finding required.
The AOC report appears to go a bit beyond what G.S. 7A-350 literally requires in that it also captures monetary obligations remitted at a hearing subsequent to the defendant’s sentencing. In my opinion remission is not the same as a waiver (something I discussed here), but it appears that both actions fall within the same working definition in the report. The “waived/remitted category” also includes remitted fines, which are never subject to the just cause finding.
One of the other columns in the report shows the number of civil judgments imposed. The report’s working definition of “Civil Judgment” covers cases when a judge orders that “all monetary obligations due are due through civil enforcement mechanisms only.” In other words, it’s not for criminal obligations that get docketed civilly upon default. It’s for criminal things that are somehow ordered civilly from the get-go. As I explained in this prior post, I don’t know of any clear legal authority for doing that. That post apparently was not especially persuasive: the number of civil judgments jumped from 12,666 in calendar year 2015 to 22,399 in 2016. I’m working on a Jerry Maguire–style mission statement on civil judgments that will surely keep the total number under 40,000 in 2017.
The other recently submitted report, available here, covers costs remitted upon remand from superior court to district court. Under G.S. 15A-1431(h), once an appealed case is calendared in superior court for trial de novo, a defendant may withdrawal the appeal only by consent of the court, and with the attachment of superior court costs, unless the costs are remitted by the superior court judge. Session Law 2015-247 directed the AOC, in consultation with the Conference of Clerks of Superior Court, to report on the number of remanded cases, including the number in which the court remitted costs.
The latest report does that. A total of 3,070 cases were remanded, with costs remitted in 818 of them. The report also tracks remitted costs by district and by individual judge.