Pretrial Diversion Program
Can’t Require Charitable Gift
State law requires that fines be paid
to government, not to anyone else
Twenty five students from Miami (Ohio) University were offered, and accepted, a pre-trial diversion program after they had received citations for misdemeanor criminal offenses involving alcohol. They accepted a deal whereby they would plead guilty and pay court costs, complete 30 hours of community service, attend a two-day alcohol education program and contribute $100 to either the Law Enforcement Trust Fund or the Respect for Law Camp. After they completed the program, the Court dismissed their charges and sealed their records.
The students nevertheless sued the county prosecutor, an assistant prosecutor, several county courts and court employees and the nonprofit organizations that provided the alcohol counseling. The students argued that the program violated the law.
A county court dismissed their claim and an appellate court has affirmed. The appellate court ruled, however, that the requirement to contribute to one of the two charities was improper and could not be included in any future program. (Lane v. Phillabaum, Ct. of App. OH, 12th App. Dist., Butler Co., No. CA2007-09-217, 5/27/08.)
State law requires an officer who collects a fine to pay it into the treasury of the county in which the fine is assessed. Prior decisions have ruled that a requirement to make a donation is essentially the imposition of a fine and there was no authority to order the students to make the contributions to charity. Although it was “too late” for the students to ask for their money back, the Court warned the county to drop that portion of the program in the future.
YOU NEED TO KNOW
This decision is consistent with decisions elsewhere holding that courts have no authority to order “contributions” to charities in criminal sentences. Community service is considered appropriate, but cash usually has to go to the government. (See Nonprofit Issues®, January 2001, and March 16, 2005.)
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