Missouri officials seek to offset cost of investigations

Convicts would face additional jail time if they don’t pay

A Missouri lawmaker wants to make convicted criminals pay the cost of their own prosecution and police investigation as a way to save money for cash-strapped cities and counties.

The legislation, which was taken up by a House committee this past week, would put a $300 cap on the costs for misdemeanor convictions and a $750 limit on felony cases, but prosecutors could ask for more by submitting supporting documentation to the judge presiding over the case.

Convicted defendants would be required to pay the investigation costs— regardless of financial condition— or face additional jail time.

Sponsoring Rep. Don Ruzicka, R-Mount Vernon, said the police chief in his hometown had suggested the legislation to help offset policing costs there.

Mount Vernon Police Chief Garry Earnest said that a small number of people commit a large portion of the crime in most jurisdictions, and therefore should pay most of the bill.

“We should let them (the criminals) pay for what they’ve done,” he said.

Sheldon Lineback, the executive director of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association said police departments across the state are feeling strained because the demand for their services doesn’t fluctuate like their funding.

“All the departments are tight at the budgets right now and calls upon those resources are always abundant,” he said.

Judiciary Committee members praised the measure’s intent, but they questioned how cities, counties and the state would determine what an investigation costs — and whether any convicts could foot the bill.

Rep. Galen Higdon, R-St. Joseph pointed out that the legislation allows convicts to be billed for time spent on the case by police officers, sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors, the presiding judge and even fire department investigators in some arson cases.

“I applaud this bill,” he said. “But where are we going to draw the line?”

An estimate included with the legislation could not forecast how much money the state might collect from defendants, but it projected the state would have to spend more than $220,000 hiring workers to process the paperwork.

There were also questions about the fairness of ordering a hefty fee on a person who has just been released from jail or prison.

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