Anaheim Approves Law to Bill Accused for Investigations
The Anaheim City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a far-reaching ordinance that would allow people accused of crimes to be charged for the costs of criminal investigations whether or not they are ultimately convicted.
City officials acknowledged that the ordinance, approved without discussion on a 5-0 vote, is likely to face a court challenge on constitutional grounds, but they said it could save the city millions of dollars a year.
“When a criminal has the wherewithal, as many do, they should be responsible for paying” for law enforcement activities, City Atty. Jack L. White said. “It undoubtedly will be tested, as in any new area of the law where you are seeking to extend the dimensions.”
While many cities in Orange County and elsewhere in the state, including San Jose, have been trying to recover costs from drunk driving suspects before conviction, Anaheim officials and one legal scholar said they believe this is the first attempt by a city to recover costs of police investigations of all crimes.
Other cities have adopted ordinances that seek to recover costs for other police services. Newport Beach, for example, recently joined several other Orange County cities in enacting an ordinance that imposes a $500 fine on a homeowner when police have to respond a second time to a loud party or disturbance. Newport Beach City Atty. Bob Burnham said that so far no one has been charged under the ordinance, and that it has not been challenged in court.
The new Anaheim ordinance seeks to shift the burden for the city’s costs in the investigation, prevention and prosecution of criminal activities from the general taxpayer to those accused of committing the acts. Under the language given preliminary approval by the council Tuesday, the accused will bear responsibility for the costs even if criminal charges are not filed or are dismissed, or if the person is acquitted.
Legal authorities say the ordinance raises constitutional questions about the city’s jurisdiction to add penalties to criminal violations and whether an individual can be made to pay for services that benefit society in general.
“It’s an interesting academic question and it may be that this ordinance is perfectly constitutional,” said Ron Talmo, a professor at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton. “But the fact that you can go through a criminal trial and be found not guilty and still be prosecuted civilly is disturbing to me as an American, even though technically it might be legal.”
Anaheim is also unique in the county in that its city attorney’s office prosecutes misdemeanor of-fenses that would otherwise be handled by the district attorney’s office. Talmo said the ordinance might prompt conflict of interest charges if the city attorney also sought to prosecute the same cases civilly under the ordinance.
Under the ordinance, which will be up for final adoption next week, each city department head is authorized to compute the costs, including wages, of an investigation. The city’s Department of Finance would prepare an invoice and forward it to the accused.
The accused could appeal the amount of the costs before a hearing officer selected by the city, but the City Council is given final say.
An accused person may also challenge imposition of the charges altogether, in which case the city must show, in a civil lawsuit, that the person actually committed the crime.
Anaheim Police Chief Joseph T. Molloy said Tuesday that there likely will be some selectivity exercised concerning who is prosecuted under the ordinance.
“I don’t see this ordinance as a blanket indictment of every individual we spend time or money going after,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t expend resources chasing after people who don’t have the ability to pay.