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What Are Penalties and Assessments? How Much Are They?

Summary in 50 Words or Less: Penalties and assessments are itemized additional fees added to the base fine.  Such additions commonly are for things like a court security fee, criminal conviction fee and criminal laboratory fee.  They vary by county and by crime, but can add up to nearly triple the base fine.
If one pleas no contest or guilty to almost any crime in California, there is a minimum base fine associated with the violation.  In addition to the base fine, California courts are authorized to add certain assessments and penalties that vary by county and apply only to certain types of offenses.  In total, there are forty-six penalties and assessments that can be added to a base fine.
These are directed to various accounts to pay for a variety of court operating expenses, as will be detailed below. 

Every fine will have $29 added to it for each $10 in the base fine.  This means that a $100 base fine will have $290 in penalties and assessments added.  There is also a 20% state surcharge added to the base fine under Penal Code § 1465.7.
For an infraction, misdemeanor and a felony, $40 also is added the base fine for a court security fee.
There is a $35 criminal conviction fee added for each infraction and $30 for each felony or misdemeanor under Government Code § 70373.

If defendant was held in custody, but then released on his or her own recognizance by the judge, there is a $25 administrative screening fee added when defendant is later convicted.

If defendant was cited for an infraction or a misdemeanor and released at the scene, but with a promise to appear in court later, the judge can add a $10 citation processing fee under Penal Code § 1463.07 and Government Code § 29550(f).

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If defendant failed to appear in court as ordered, even if a warrant was not issued, the court can add $15 to the total owed under Penal Code § 853.7.

If defendant is convicted of a sex offense, the court can add a $50 to $70 AIDS Prevention Education fee under Penal Code § 1463.23 to the fine.  The court can also add a $300 sexual habitual offender fine, which is then further subject to penalties and assessments (People v. Stewart (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 907).

If defendant is convicted of DUI, either as a misdemeanor or a felony, the judge can add $50 in penalties and assessments for an Alcohol Abuse Education and Prevention under Vehicle Code § 23645 and a $100 assessment for an Alcohol and Drug Program under Vehicle Code § 23649.
A person convicted of DUI may also face a $50 laboratory service fund fee, included in the base fine, under Penal Code § 1463.14(a).  Separately, there can be $33 added for a laboratory service fee for blood, breath or urine analysis.  There can also be a $4 emergency air medical transportation fund penalty applied and a $1 night court fine added, too.  Lastly, a person convicted of DUI can face a $20 DUI restitution fund fee under Penal Code § 1463.18.

If defendant is convicted of a theft offense, there is a $10 crime prevention fine that can be added under Penal Code § 1202.5.

If defendant is convicted of a drug offense, the judge can add a $50 criminal laboratory analysis fee under Health & Safety Code § 11372.5 and People v. Martinez (1998) 65 Cal.App. 4th 1511.  If defendant participated in a DEJ, there is a DEJ administrative fee that can be added.  This can be up to $500 for a felony offense (under Penal Code § 1001.15) or up to $300 for a misdemeanor (under Penal Code § 1001.16).

In addition, for a defendant convicted of a drug offense, there is a maximum $150 drug program fine (under Health & Safety Code § 11372.7) that is subject to penalties and assessments being added (under People v. Sierra (1995) 37 Cal.App.4th 1690).

If defendant is convicted of domestic violence, there is a $500 domestic violence fee added to the total owed under Penal Code § 1203.097(a)(5) if defendant is granted probation.  This $500 is not subject to penalties and assessment enhancements.

If one is convicted of illegal dumping, i.e. under Penal Code § 372 (as many public urination tickets used to be handled in Hermosa Beach), there is a $100 fee added to an infraction offense and $200 if it is a misdemeanor.

There are additional penalties and assessments for uncommon crimes that this article will not cover.

The base fine is also allocated to various programs and funds, depending upon the size of the base fine. Ten dollars of every ten dollars of base fine is allocated to a state penalty fund.  Seven dollars of each ten dollars in the base fine is allocated to a county penalty fund.  Five dollars of every ten dollars of the base fine is allocated to a state court construction fund.

While these penalties and assessments, as well as additional fees, can seem really onerous and unfair, one must not forget to seek credit for any time in custody, which will reduce the base fine by $125 per day in custody and dramatically reduce the total owed.

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