I Got a Bill From the CHP After My DUI - What Should I Do?

Over the last year or so across the state, governmental agencies have been mailing bills to those who receive a governmental response to a crime.  The response can be in the form of police officers, CHP officers and / or firemen.  Our clients have called us up, asking if they should pay the bill, try to negotiate something or if the bill can be converted to community service.  After all, the bills are often over $1,000.

We tell our clients to read the written advisory that accompanied the notice.  Pay close attention to the deadlines specified and the format required for an appeal.  The advisory should identify the statutory (or administrative regulation) basis for the claim for costs reimbursement and it should also provide a full statement of your rights to challenge or appeal the claim and the amount.

One can appeal the amount and should, if one has the time.  The State's accounting processes for calculating orders to recover "costs" are often without hard documentation and usually speculative.  While the law does allow the State to rely on estimates and “accounting constructs,” the estimate is often based on unrelated expenses or administrative costs that have nothing to do with the actual response of law enforcement to a location.

Moreover, there are some recent cases that suggest a bill cannot be mailed for something that was not an accident.  In CHP v. Sup Ct (Allende) (2006) 135 C.A.4th 488, the court held that a DUI arrest is not an accident sufficient to justify an order for reimbursement of agency or municipality costs.  The court said that the term “accident” necessarily means “something more than the negligent operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant."

In many cases, the result of an appeal of the costs claimed will result in a substantial reduction in the amount ordered.  The appeals process is short and procedurally challenging, and you are entitled to counsel.  Be sure that you meet all specified deadlines for appealing.  If you miss the deadline, you will lose your right to contest the imposition of costs against you and/or the amount of the order for reimbursement.

Cost orders, once imposed, can be quite dangerous even if reduced.  The State has enormous and far-reaching collections measures in its arsenal including set-offs and seizures of funds.  In many cases the orders are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  In most cases, the issuance and validity of a costs order does not depend on a criminal conviction, only upon a determination of the factual basis provided by statute as generally set forth in Government Code § 53150.  

The bottom line is that if someone wants to challenge such a “bill,” that person should pay close attention to the appeal process and follow the guidelines.  Hiring an attorney to guide one through the appeal may, however, prove more costly than the reduction in the bill, making the attorney cost defective.  We recommend therefore that one only hire counsel to challenge an extremely large bill.  Small bills, while perhaps inflated, should probably just be paid unless one has the time, energy and motivation to fight long and hard for perhaps only a $100 reduction.

For more information about post-conviction financial issues, click on the following articles:
  1. Restitution to Victim Cannot Be Increased After Probation Ends, Even if Victim Sues Defendant in Civil Lawsuit and Wins Millions
  2. Restitution Award of $3.4 Million Vacated Against Possessor of Child Pornography
  3. In Juvenile Vandalism Case Involving Graffiti, Restitution Cannot Include Investigation Costs
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