COA: Fees can be charged in case without indigency hearing

The Indiana Court of Appeals said an indigency hearing is not required before determining fees in a court case, though it should be conducted at some point, in a case where a man was charged more than $1,000 in court fees without a hearing. It also said the court cannot impose requirements that he maintain a “C” average in his school and have full-time employment.

Mason Meunier-Short removed a shotgun from beneath his father’s bed and, unaware that it was loaded, pointed it at his girlfriend and pulled the trigger. The shot caused severe and life-threatening injuries to the girlfriend when it struck her abdomen. He was arrested and charged with criminal recklessness while armed with a deadly weapon, a Level 6 felony, and a firearm enhancement. The state dropped the enhancement as part of a plea agreement.

The trial court sentenced Meunier-Short to two years in the Department of Correction, with one suspended to probation. It also imposed $1,099 in costs and fees and ordered Meunier-Short to maintain a “C” average in the school he was attending after his release.

Meunier-Short argued on appeal the trial court abused its discretion by assessing fines, costs and fees without first conducting an indigency hearing. However, the COA disagreed and said the court can assess fines without conducting an indigency hearing first, but must conduct one before the conclusion of Meunier-Short’s probation. The state argued a hearing would be superfluous, but the COA said Indiana Code required one, and there is conflicting information about Meunier-Short’s ability to pay.

However, Meunier-Short did get a break when the COA said the trial court lacked the statutory authority to impose a $200 substance abuse fee and a $200 alcohol and drug countermeasures fee. The COA said the code that requires the substance abuse fee does not include offenses against persons in it and the code that requires the countermeasures fee does not include criminal recklessness.

Meunier-Short also challenged the order requiring him to maintain a “C” average in school when he got out of prison. The COA said although it would be good for Meunier-Short to return to school and do well in his program, the court can’t order him to maintain full-time work and have a “C” average in his school and the court didn’t see how requiring both relates to his conviction of criminal recklessness.

Therefore, the court remanded the order to the trial court with instructions to give Meunier-Short the option to either maintain full-time employment or faithfully pursue a course of study that will equip him for suitable employment.

The case is Mason W. Meunier-Short v State of Indiana, 32A01-1507-CR-968.

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