The Wonder of Government Math

Tuesday, October 04, 2005, at 07:16PM

By Eric Richardson

Today I finally got something in the mail about my ticket from a few weeks back. My ticket still doesn't show up online, but they say it can take up to three weeks for that. My "Due Date" isn't until November 16th, so there's still plenty of time for it.

The "Bail Amount" for my ticket is $114. Remember, this is for an alleged violation of CVC 21650.1, operating a bike the wrong way down a street. I thought that seemed high, so I found the LA Superior Court 2005 Bail Schedule for Infractions and Misdemeanors (PDF). That document lists the bail for my infraction at $25 (bottom of page 34), but like most vehicle code violations it's eligible for penalties.

That's where the fun starts...

Until just now I had no idea how unfathomably screwed up California's court system is. This text is from Kern County, but nothing else I've read is so straight-forward about what's going on:

A "penalty assessment" is added to each fine. By statute, California created the first penalty assessment in the late 1960's. Over the years, the penalty assessment has increased to the point that it is now larger than the fine. Today, the penalty assessment in Kern County averages more than 240% of the base fine. The penalty assessment is $24 for each $10 (or portion of $10) fine. Therefore, for example, when a judge imposes a fine of $100, the court must collect $100 plus ten increments of the $24 penalty assessment ($240) for a total of $340.

In Kern County, the $24 penalty assessment is made up of four main sections, the $10 state penalty (Penal Code 1464), the $7 county penalty (Government Code 76000), the $5 state court facilities penalty (Government Code 70372(a)), and the $2 state surcharge (Penal Code 1465.7).

That's from this PDF titled "Where the Money Goes".

So basically for that $35 fine, additionally the state gets to add $30 ($10 for each whole or portion of $10), the county gets to add $21 ($7 per $10), $3 goes to the "DNA Identification Fund" ($1 per $10), $5 is for the court, and a 20% surcharge is thrown in for good measure. That makes the statewide total bail for a violation of CVC 21650.1 $99. Of course Los Angeles is one of 30 counties that are permitted to charge more than the state's total bail, so somewhere an extra $15 gets tagged in there.

Of course if you're required to go to court you don't have to pay any of this up front, just if you're convicted. If you have the option of just throwing money down the drain without court, though, they make you post bail for the entire amount before you can have an optional trial. Unbelievable.

And even if you're found guilty, they get to charge you $10 for the trouble of being wrongly ticketed and spending all manner of time coming to court to fight it.

And they wonder why so many people are angry at the law...