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Florida Supreme Court Rules on Cost Assessment

By David M. Reutter

In settling direct conflicts between two district courts of appeals decisions, the Florida Supreme Court has held that applying a statute retroactively to assess costs is not an ex post facto violation.

The Court accepted review of Griffin v. State, 946 So. 610 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) to resolve that decision’s conflict with the holding of Ridgeway v. State, 892 So. 2d 538 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005). Both decisions concerned the imposition of costs provisions of §939.185, Florida Statutes (2004), which allows that “the board of county commissioners may adopt an additional court cost, not to exceed $65, to be imposed by the court when a person pleads guilty or nolo contendere to, or is found guilty of, any felony, misdemeanor, or criminal traffic offense under the laws of the state.”

The trial court in Griffin applied the statute to the defendant’s 1997 criminal offense at sentencing on July 1, 2004. The appeals court in Griffin found that retroactive application violated ex post facto. The Ridgeway court found no such violation.

In approving Ridgeway, the Supreme Court found the statute had a retroactive effect but that monetary punishments are not equated to criminal punishment. “Assessment of costs violates ex post facto prohibitions only when the length of an inmate’s sentence can be increased by failure to pay the costs.” Since that element is missing here, the Court found the finding in Ridgeway that finds there is no ex post violation was the proper result.

As such, the Second District’s holding to the contrary was quashed. The matter was remanded for further proceedings.

See: Griffin v. Florida, 980 So.2d 1035 (Fla. 2008). Case No. SC07-168.

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Related legal case

Griffin v. Florida