Frivolous’ charges to bring fines for filing

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

[1/16/04]People who file municipal-court criminal charges that go to trial but are deemed frivolous will owe court costs of $100, Judge Allen Derivaux has ordered.

The order is posted at the front desk of the Vicksburg Police Department, 820 Veto St., apparently as a warning to citizens there to file criminal complaints.

“Be advised that by signing an affidavit charging a person with a crime, you will bear the burden of proof when the case comes to trial,” the order says.

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“If the court determines your case to be frivolous, vindictive or unsubstantial, you will be assessed $100 in court costs.”

Derivaux’s order took effect beginning with affidavits filed after Jan. 1. No assessments for frivolous charges had been made Wednesday, said Suzan Ebeling, court administrator.

“It’s just discretionary,” Derivaux said. “Just because you lose doesn’t mean” the cost will be assessed, he said.

The order is designed to “remind the public that they just need to be sure that they have really been wronged under one of the crimes,” City Prosecutor Bobby Robinson said.

“The notice is not intended to intimidate a victim of a crime, but to help them realize the seriousness of filing a criminal charge against another citizen, and the burden of proof,” Ebeling said.

Misdemeanor charges such as simple assault are sometimes filed by participants after arguments and fights. In cases where defendants are charged with felony crimes, such as murder, only arraignment and preliminary hearings are held in city court.

Police detectives rarely investigate misdemeanor crimes. That means that people who file complaints are responsible for identifying and lining up their own witnesses to the crimes they allege, and usually act as their own attorneys.

Each case that goes to trial in municipal court costs the city about $1,000, Ebeling said. That cost includes city staff time in preparing paperwork and serving warrants and subpoenas, she said.

Trials in municipal court can last from 20 or 30 minutes to several hours, Derivaux said.

During any given court session, up to half the complaints of misdemeanor crimes that are scheduled for trial are dismissed, Ebeling said. Statistics over a longer period of time were not available.

“We have a large percentage of cases that are dismissed or the defendant is found not guilty because there is no proof of the crime,” Ebeling said.

State law on municipal courts lists potential court-cost amounts for nine items, including $100 for causing prosecution without reasonable cause or refusing to cooperate after initiating action. The $100 assessment is the largest amount listed.

A $50 assessment is also listed for people who file affidavits or complaints and then dismiss them. Such amounts have been assessed by the court, Ebeling said.

Municipal court handles about 7,000 to 8,000 cases a year, Ebeling said. Many of those involve traffic violations.

Misdemeanor crimes in Warren County may be prosecuted in Warren County Justice Court, and similar court costs may be assessed in that court.

Warren County Justice Court Clerk Carla Fields, however, said that only about one in five criminal complaints filed in that court turns out to be frivolous.

“It’s not really a problem,” Fields said of the court she administers.

Justice court assesses costs of $51.50 to people who file complaints and then want to have them dropped.

There is no fee for filing a criminal affidavit.