A more affordable court option for low-income defendants in Louisiana

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana city has agreed to waive fees for some low-income people charged with traffic offenses or other municipal crimes who want to enter a probation program that leads to charges being dropped.

The settlement led to the Jan. 15 dismissal of a federal lawsuit filed by criminal justice advocates in 2017 against officials of Gretna.

The suburban New Orleans city agreed to waive fees for people who cannot otherwise afford to enter its Deferred Prosecution Program. In some cases, defendants will pay fees in monthly installments based on income, according to court records.

The agreement also benefits some who entered the program, paid some fees, but were ultimately dropped from the program and convicted. They can get refunds if they paid fines and fees for the conviction, but didn’t get credit for any money they had paid into the Deferred Prosecution Program before they were dropped from it.

The suit was filed by The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

“The settlement ensures that deferred prosecution is open to all, regardless of their finances,” center attorney Eric Foley said in an email. Attorney John Litchfield, who represented the city, characterized the changes as “tweaks” that improved the program.

One key element of the suit was dismissed last year. A federal judge rejected the contention that city officials had a conflict of interest because fines and fees collected by the Gretna Mayor’s Court went into the city’s general fund. The federal court found that the system is structured so that the municipal court officials would not be tempted to prosecute or convict for financial reasons.

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