March 29, 2019 – The Iowa Supreme Court today decided on further review State v. Quinten McMurry. It considered only whether attorney fees were properly assessed based upon ability to pay and whether court costs could be divided and reduced for dismissed counts. Minimum court costs and court reporter fees sometimes apply, wrote Justice Cady, even when counts are dismissed.
Reading between the lines, the McMurry decision signaled that sentencing courts have considerable discretion to impose court costs and that parties can agree to pay costs even on counts that are dismissed—though the statute is “silent” rather than contrary on the subject of dividing and reducing court costs for dismissed counts. The defendant argued that the restitution statute imposes court costs only for counts that result in convictions. The State argued that court costs should never be divided and apportioned when a conviction of any kind is imposed, regardless of dismissed counts.
“[I]t is fair to say that the statute is silent on the issue of apportionment of restitution in multicount prosecutions when one or more counts result in a conviction and other counts are dismissed,” wrote Justice Cady.
In a precedent well examined by the Court, “we did not view this silence in the statute to foreclose the apportionment of costs and fees between counts that resulted in a conviction and those that were dismissed,” Justice Cady continued.
It boiled down to $220:
“In this case, McMurry’s claim of error only relates to the assessment of the total court costs of $220. Yet, all these costs fall within the category of fees that would have been the same even if the dismissed counts would not have been prosecuted,” concluded Justice Cady. The Court thus affirmed the imposition of those minimum costs.
The Court, however, noted that a sentencing court must actually determine the defendant’s ability to pay before imposing court appointed attorney fees. It did not do that in this case so had to be sent back for resentencing and recalculation of attorney fees based on ability to pay.
David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in the McMurry case.
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