by Douglas Ankney
Criminal justice reform advocates often espouse pretrial diversion programs. These programs permit accused citizens to pay a fee and take a class or two in exchange for dismissal of the charges and a clean record.
The prosecutor doesn’t have to spend time or resources prosecuting the charges, and the government collects the fees. Not much due process in these programs, but with over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions ending in plea bargains, how much due process is witnessed in the courts these days anyway?
But prosecutors are figuring out ways to cash in on these reform efforts.
Rapides Parish (Louisiana) treasurer Bruce Kelly noticed a steady decline in funds collected by District Attorney Phillip Terrell for court fines and traffic tickets. However, Kelly also noticed Terrell’s office was in good physical condition, and there was a fleet of new cars. Realizing something was amiss, Kelly dug deeper. He discovered that Terrell was collecting fees for the prosecutor’s pretrial diversion program. Money from fines and traffic tickets went to a general fund, but fees for pretrial diversion went to Terrell.
Terrell’s website explains that the program provides “nonviolent offenders an opportunity to avoid conviction and incarceration” via “tailored” agreements in which accused citizens pay money in exchange for their cases being dismissed. The most prominent feature of the website is a giant button that reads “MAKE A PAYMENT.”
In a lawsuit filed against Terrell, it is alleged that in 2017 his office brought in $2.2 million in pretrial diversion fees—more than 10 times the amount collected in such fees by his predecessor. Terrell’s fee schedule for dismissals is $250 for traffic tickets, $500 for misdemeanors, and $1,200 to $1,500 for felonies.
Apparently, Terrell understands pretrial diversion to refer to diversion of the accused’s money to Terrell’s office.
Unfortunately, these practices aren’t limited to Rapides Parish. All across the nation, prosecutors are transforming due process into dues processed.
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