The Eureka Police Department began a cost recovery program Thursday that will charge drivers a $350 fee if they create the need for an emergency response due to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The EPD has been working on the details of the fee for about three months, said Police Chief Garr Nielsen.
”People who drive under the influence and are involved in a traffic accident end up costing us an inordinate amount of resources,” Nielsen said.
The fee isn't expected to add much to the city's general fund, but it should help offset the resources used for emergency situations involving DUIs.
The new fee will be assessed immediately and those fined will have 15 days to pay the amount in full, even though their case will not have gone to court yet. After debating how long people should be given, 15 days seemed reasonable, Nielsen said.
”We feel like it's imperative that people are held accountable,” he said.
If the fee is not paid within 15 days, it will go to a collection agency. Insurance policies cannot pay the fine, according to an EPD press release.
California Government Code allows police departments to collect fees for specific situations, including emergency responses resulting from a DUI driver's actions.
Eureka City Attorney Sheryl Schaffner said that because the fee is civil and not criminal, the threshold for evidence is not as great. The stakes are also different.
”Civil consequences are generally money; it's not going to cost you your liberty,” she said.
Generally, substantial evidence is required to charge the fee, such as a blood-alcohol test or a breathalyzer test. However, it does not have to be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.
If in court the DUI charge is changed to reckless driving, the driver would not be eligible to receive the fee back. If they are found not guilty of the charges, it is unclear how someone would contest the fee, but there is usually an administrative appeal process though EPD, Schaffner said.
So they took the time to figure out the entire collection program, but they don't know how you get your money back if you are acquitted. I see two things coming out of this: 1) Not Guilty's will still not be able to get their money back and 2) All police arrests for DUI's, whether there is an accident or not, will cause the fee to be charged. What do you think?