Law School Case Brief
People v. Dueñas - 30 Cal. App. 5th 1157, 242 Cal. Rptr. 3d 268 (2019)
Although the trial court is required by Pen. Code, § 1202.4 to impose a restitution fine, the court must stay the execution of the fine until and unless the People demonstrate that the defendant has the ability to pay the fine.
Defendant Velia Dueñas, an indigent and homeless mother of young children, pled no contest to driving with a suspended license in California state court. The trial court placed her on probation, imposed $220 in fees and fines and ordered that if an outstanding debt remained at the end of her probation, the amount due would go to collections without further order of the court. Defendant appealed, contending that imposing the fees and fine without considering her ability to pay violated state and federal constitutional guarantees because it simply punishes her for being poor.
Was the trial court's order imposing the fees and fine proper?
The appellate court reversed the order imposing court facilities and court operations assessments and remanded the case to the trial court with directions to stay the execution of the restitution fine. The court held that because poverty was the only reason defendant could not pay, using the criminal process to collect would have been unconstitutional. It reiterated that due process of law requires the trial court to conduct an ability to pay hearing and ascertain a defendant's present ability to pay before it imposed court facilities and court operations assessments. And although Pen. Code, § 1202.4 bars consideration of a defendant's ability to pay unless the judge was considering increasing the fee over the statutory minimum, the execution of any restitution fine imposed under that statute must be stayed unless and until the trial court held an ability to pay hearing and concluded that the defendant had the present ability to pay the restitution fine.
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