Advertising used to — and it may still — include language about “price does not include shipping and handling.” In other words, the number in the advertisement was not the actual final number.

Well, fines owed to the city, the county or the state are the same — the number on the citation may not be the final cost one has to pay. Today we’ll look at keeping that number as low as possible.

In the first place, a defendant will not see some of the costs associated with a citation.

For instance, the State of Oregon imposes a fee of $45 on every citation written in the state,and takes that $45 out of the first money collected by the city or county.

So, if someone gets, say, a citation for rolling through a stop sign, the first $45 of the $260 fine will go to Oregon.

Likewise, the last $16 goes to the county where the citation was written. These two costs are part of the fine itself.

So, when Mr. Smith writes a check out for the presumptive fine of $260 on a stop sign violation (or a yellow light — remember, yellow means STOP!) that’s the sum total needed. Paying in full, immediately, is the best way to keep the cost down.

Obviously, not everyone can pay quickly. State law allows courts to set up payment plans for people who request more than 30 days to pay a fine.

Here is the first additional cost a person may encounter — under ORS 137.118(3), a court may add to any criminal judgment a fee for the cost of collections. That fee may be up to 25 percent of the judgment but may not exceed $250.

Let’s say that Mr. Smith can pay $60 immediately, but needs a payment plan for the remaining $200, to be paid over 12 months. The court could add a fee up to $20, meaning Mr. Smith would now pay $220.

But wait — as they say — there’s more. ORS 137.183 says that criminal case judgments bear interest at the statutory rate, currently percent.

If Mr. Smith’s court does not choose to waive his interest payment, his cost would then total $239.80, the $19.80 increase representing the interest that would accrue to the fine, for a total of almost $20 per month for a year.

For most citations, that is the end of the story. Paid in full within 30 days or paid over some time with an added cost for collection and interest.

Unfortunately, not all fine payments go that smoothly. While not a separate fee itself, if Mr. Smith does not appear for arraignment, a court may impose the maximum fine rather than the presumptive fine. Mr. Smith may also end up with a notice of license suspension, which has a fee.

If he continues his no-show ways, an order to show cause (for contempt) is then served on him, again with a fee.

Further acts of ignoring the obligation will be rewarded with a warrant for Mr. Smith’s arrest, with a warrant fee. When Mr. Smith has his contempt hearing, a further fine can be imposed for his behavior. In short, it is possible for Mr. Smith to turn a $260 traffic citation into several thousand dollars-worth of obligation by failing, neglecting or refusing to do what he’s supposed to.

In summary — the best way to keep the cost of a citation low is to not get one in the first place. Failing that, pay it immediately. If that can’t work, then stick to the payment schedule.

Finally, if there are problems, it’s a really, really, REALLY good idea to come in and talk to the court first, before the costs — and aggravation — start to skyrocket.

Once again, Courtside is in recess, but questions about court and court procedures to are always in order.

— Thomas Creasing is a municipal court judge and Herald columnist

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