January 16, 2014

Avoid Woodbridge, Illinois (Or Pay the Price)

Let's just get right down to it.  If you are arrested in the Village of Woodbridge, Illinois, you will be billed for the pleasure.  You will be separated from $30, regardless of whether you are eventually convicted of the crime for which you were arrested.  There is no procedure in place to challenge the fee or have it reimbursed.

If you think that's outrageous, you're right.  What's even more outrageous is that the Seventh Circuit just blessed it (via).

Here's how the scheme works - if you are arrested for committing a crime in Woodbridge, you will be charged $30 when brought to the police station for booking.

That's it!  Doesn't matter if the cops arrested the wrong guy or lacked probable cause to make an arrest or were out to score vengeance against the guy who slept with his wife.  Guilt or innocence is irrelevant.  If you're booked by the Woodbridge police, you will be billed for the pleasure.

Jerry Markadonatos challenged this practice after he was arrested and then participated in a diversionary program that left him with the equivalent of a not-guilty verdict.  Seems like a due process slam dunk, right?  Generally, if the government is going to take your property, they've got to provide some procedure by which you can fight it.  The Woodbridge fee is a binary, no discretion rule - get arrested, pay $30.

Amazingly, for two of the judges on the Seventh Circuit panel, this was the program's saving grace.  For one of the things to consider in a due process challenge is the chance of an erroneous deprivation of property which, in the case of Woodbridge, the court concluded is "non-existent":
Under the scheme, every person who is arrested is charged the booking fee, regardless of whether they were arrested without probable cause. Thus, a Woodridge employee determining whether to charge the booking fee is presented with a binary choice: 'yes' the booking fee must be charged to a person who has been arrested and is being booked by the Village; or 'no' the booking fee must not be charged to a person who has not been arrested and is not being booked by the Village. This determination is made all the easier by the fact that the booking fee is collected only upon an individual’s arrest and booking. Thus, the Court cannot envision any situation in which one who has not been arrested is charged the booking fee. That is, it is only when one is arrested and booked that the collection of the fee occurs, thus making the potential for erroneous deprivation practically non-existent.
In other words, because the bureaucratic drone presented by a cop with a freshly arrested person has no authority to question the arrest, there's no risk of an erroneous deprivation of that person's property.

Yes, that's as loopy as it sounds, but it gets even worse:
Mr. Markadonatos was arrested and later appeared before a judge. Thus, if he believed that he was not or should not have actually been arrested, he had the opportunity to alert both the arresting officer and the judge hearing his case of that fact. While neither of these opportunities is formally provided for in the statute, they are more than sufficient to safeguard against an erroneous deprivation that will practically never occur.
Seriously?  Let's take the second option first - have you ever appeared before a judge and asked him or her to do something that's not within their power?  It doesn't make them happy.  That hardly seems like a reasonable option.  As for arguing with a cop, that's a good way not only to be loaded down with further charges (and, presumably, $30 fees) but wind up beaten, tazed, or shot.  Arguing with a cop, even if you're in the right, almost never ends well.

On top of that, the court concludes that the village has a legitimate interest in collecting this some kind of user fee, to help defray the cost of them deciding to arrest you.

Judge Hamilton dissents from this decision and lays out why it's ludicrous in the first paragraph:
This should be a simple case. The village’s 'booking fee' ordinance is unconstitutional
on its face. It takes property from all arrestees—the guilty and the innocent alike—without due process of law. The deprivation occurs at the time of arrest, immediately and
finally. It occurs based on only the say-so and perhaps even the whim of one arresting officer. By no stretch of the imagination can that be due process of law. The fee is in substance a criminal fine, modest but a fine nonetheless, and it is imposed regardless of the validity of the arrest and regardless of whether there is any criminal prosecution or what its outcome might be.
He also points out the absurdity of the court's "no risk of erroneous deprivation" conclusion:
the risk of erroneous deprivation is in fact very substantial. The pivotal decision that imposes the deprivation is a lone police officer’s decision to arrest. A lone police officer’s decision is subject to judicial review even when she writes a mere speeding ticket, let alone imposes a criminal fine. Many people who are arrested are not even charged with crimes, and many charges result in either dismissal or acquittal, so that as many as 30 percent and perhaps nearly 50 percent of arrestees may pay the fee without any criminal conviction.
In the end, the most difficult thing for Judge Hamilton is whether the scheme is more Orwellian or like something out of Lewis Carroll.  Both, is what he concludes.

As for the "user fee" concept, he points out that cases involving user fees all arise when someone voluntarily takes advantage of some service, like crossing a toll bridge.  Being arrested is not, except in some truly rare circumstances, a thing done voluntarily:
During oral argument, the village tried to justify this user fee theory by explaining that a person arrested by mistake would still properly owe the fee because he would have
benefitted from the “services” of being photographed and fingerprinted. That argument surely qualifies as Orwellian.
Indeed.  Regular readers know that one of my pet peeves is states locking people up on the cheap.  If you want to deprive people of their liberty, you have to pay for it.

So, a bit of advice as you're making vacation plans for the summer - avoid the village of Woodbridge, Illinois.  If they've got nobody to arrest, they've got no need to raise funds, right?

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