A reduction of excessive court costs is long overdue:
The Court of Appeals published a unanimous opinion this week holding that when multiple criminal charges arise from the same underlying event or transaction and are adjudicated together in the same hearing or trial, they are part of a single “criminal case” for purposes of assessing court costs.
The case stems from a Buncombe County incident – Dave Robert Rieger was pulled over for following another vehicle too closely and was ultimately arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia. He took his case to trial and was convicted of both charges. Because the state filed the charges against him in two separate charging documents, there were two separate judgments against him even though they were disposed of through the same trial. The judge imposed court costs in each of the two judgments, amounting to a total of nearly $800. The question to the three-judge appellate panel was whether Rieger experienced one criminal case or two.
At a recent local candidate event I was able to have a few words with a couple of judges and a District Attorney, and I mainly focused on court costs and high amounts of cash bail. Surprisingly enough, they were all concerned about this, and eager to talk about it (as opposed to ignoring it). We may be approaching a critical point in criminal justice reform, and it is much needed: