Mandatory fine for plea agreements challenged in Yavapai County

PRESCOTT, AZ - Lawyers for six defendants in Yavapai County criminal cases are challenging county prosecutors' insistence that all plea agreements include a minimum fine of $750 plus a state-mandated surcharge that nearly doubles the fine.

Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley held a hearing on the issue Wednesday. She did not rule immediately, The Daily Courier reported.

The lawyers for the defendants contend the mandatory fines are unfair to indigents and aren't itemized to reflect actual costs. They say it's the county attorney's office's policy to make defendants pay for their prosecutions, but the office disputes that, saying the fine is part of the penalty.

"The burden of a blanket fine imposed without regard to the fact and circumstances of the offense or defendant falls predominantly upon the poor," defense attorney Angela Napper wrote, adding that more affluent people will simply pay the fine without much consideration.

And inclusion of the fine has been confusing, she added. Various courts have rejected a plea with a fine, or accepted it, or deferred acceptance of the plea agreement until the court can determine if the fine is appropriate, Napper said.

Chief Deputy County Attorney Dennis McGrane said the $750 fine is not to pay for the prosecution.

"The fine is simply one aspect of a felony defendant's sentence that the state believes adds an important dimension to the punishment imposed for the commission of a felony offense," McGrane said.

The prosecutor also said that the state Legislature could stop the practice, but it hasn't.

The defense lawyers are seeking to have the fine stricken from the county prosecutors' offered plea agreements as well as future ones.

The fines are subject to state-mandated surcharges of 83 percent.

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