It is fairly common knowledge that being charged with a crime comes with other penalties, in addition to possible imprisonment or community supervision.

There are financial obligations in the form of court costs and fines that must be paid by the defendant. These costs are set by our state legislature and are not able to be waived in lieu of imprisonment. When a criminal case comes to an end, the defendant is advised by the judge that court costs and fines will be due and instructs the defendant to make payment arrangements with the Clerk’s Office. What is not so common knowledge is that the Clerk’s Office is mandated by Florida statute 28.246(3) to collect these court costs and fines.

If a defendant follows the judge’s instructions and comes to the Clerk’s Office to make payment arrangements, we will set up a payment plan. It is up to the defendant to determine how much to pay. At that time we file a written agreement, wherein the defendant agrees to pay a predetermined amount every 30 days until the court costs and fines have been paid in full. The cost to establish a payment plan is $25 per case. The defendant always has the option to forego a payment plan and pay the costs in full, which would not involve any additional fees.

As long as the defendant is making regular monthly payments to the Clerk’s Office, he or she is considered in compliance and the case is noted in our case management system as such. If the defendant stops making those regular payments and defaults on the payment plan, he or she is considered in noncompliance and that is where a very significant problem may arise. As part of Florida statute 28.246 that mandates the Clerk’s Office to collect costs and fees, we are also required to send defaulted payment plans to a collection agency. Another consequence of noncompliance is the suspension of the defendant’s driver license. This is the most impactful tool the legislature allows state clerk’s offices to use. In DeSoto County, it is a last resort, used only after all other avenues have been exhausted.

Before those steps are taken, the Clerk’s Office will send a letter to the defendant warning him or her that a payment needs to be made by a certain date—usually within 20 days of the date of the letter—in order to avoid suspension and being sent to a collection agency. Upon receiving this letter, all the defendant needs to do is contact our office. We are happy to work with all of our payment plan customers—but we must hear from them first.

In the event there is still no response, our final step at the Clerk’s Office is to follow through with the driver license suspension and referral to a collection agency. Generally once this has happened, the defendant cannot have his or her license reinstated until payment has been made in full to the collection agency and we have been notified by the collection agency. A person finding themselves in this situation may feel pretty hopeless, as the average amount assessed for just one felony case is $1,050.

But there is good news on the horizon!

Florida House Bill 7125 was introduced, passed, and is now Florida statute 322.75. This statute mandates that defendants be given the opportunity to re-establish a payment plan and as a result will be removed from the collection agency and have his or her driving privileges reinstated. In a unified effort to comply with this statute, state clerk’s offices began a campaign and have established Oct. 12-18 as driver reinstatement days. In DeSoto County we are extending our office hours to accommodate anyone who can’t come in during our normal business hours. On (Saturday) Oct. 12, we will be open from 8 a.m.–12 p.m. On (Monday) Oct. 14, we will be open from 7 a.m.–5 p.m., and on (Friday) October 18, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday we will be open normal business hours of 8 a.m.–5 p.m. A person can come in on any one of those dates and we will set up a new payment plan.

Important things to note:

This applies to defaulted criminal payment plans ONLY. Unpaid tickets or child support do not qualify for this program.

A reinstatement fee must be paid with the DMV in order to complete the reinstatement process. Once a new payment plan has been established, the Clerk’s Office will issue an affidavit to reinstate the defendant’s driver license. After receiving the affidavit, it is the defendant’s responsibility to take it to the DMV for reinstatement.

In the event a defendant defaults a second time, the same process will be followed of driver license suspension and referral to a collection agency.

Please help us spread this important news about Operation Drive DeSoto. And we hope to see you in October and help you get back on the road!

Nadia Daughtrey is DeSoto County Clerk of Courts

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