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More Ariz. drunk drivers could pay for jail stays

TUCSON – More convicted drunk drivers could soon have to pay for their own jail stays if Pima County officials get their way.

Officials at the Pima County Adult Detention Center recently met with judges and top prosecutors to remind them that drunk drivers can be ordered to reimburse counties for the cost of locking them up.

That law has been on the books since 1997, but Pima County Superior Court Judge Jan Kearney says judges have not been consistently imposing the fees.

“The sheriff requested we look at imposing those fees more often in view of the current financial situation,” Kearney said.

Pima County statistics show 876 people were convicted of drunk driving between January and June 2008. They spent a combined 16,595 days at the jail, costing the county approximately $1.24 million.

Kearney and Superior Court Judge Richard Fields said the chances of judges imposing the fees remains unlikely, for the same reason they haven’t been regularly imposed in the first place.

Drunken driving is one of the most expensive crimes to commit in terms of the fines and fees required by state lawmakers and fighting at trial, Fields said.

For example, felony drunken drivers are required to pay $1,500 to the state general fund and another $1,500 to the prison construction operating fund. In addition, they more than likely have to pay restitution, lawyers, monthly probation fees and other fines.

Defense attorney Joseph St. Louis said he was unaware that judges have not been asking those convicted of driving under the influence to reimburse the county, but he found the idea wholly unattractive.

“When you have a super-extreme DUI case, where someone has to go to jail for 45 days, you’re looking at $6,000 between the DUI costs and the jail costs,” St. Louis said. “Who can go to jail for 45 days and still have a job? By forcing them to pay for their jail stay too, you are guaranteeing someone will not be able to keep their home or support their family. At some point, enough is enough.”

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