DeSoto DA’s Pretrial Diversion Program for traffic citations cut revenue to criminal justice system

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Legislative Auditor

Investigative auditors examining the DeSoto Parish district attorney’s use of a pretrial diversion program for traffic citations found the program caused a substantial reduction of revenue to the criminal justice system.

Until March 2017, the DeSoto Parish sheriff collected fines and court costs generated from Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) details and distributed them to the Criminal Court Fund, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s office and 11 other entities. The Criminal Court Fund also reimbursed the Sheriff’s Office and State Police for personnel costs.  In March 2017, the district attorney began offering pretrial diversion to drivers who received traffic citations. Those drivers who enrolled in the program generally paid $200 to resolve their citations.

In contrast, a typical traffic citation for driving 10 miles above the speed limit would have cost a driver $267.50; $100 for the fine and $167.50 in court costs.  Between March 23, 2017, and March 31, 2018, 3,629 drivers entered the pretrial diversion program and the District Attorney’s office deposited $811,766 in fines and court costs. Of that amount, the office paid out $470,949 in administrative and reimbursement costs, leaving it with a balance of $340,817. If the 3,629 drivers had not enrolled in pretrial diversion, the fines and court costs would have resulted in $1.07 million in revenue to the criminal justice system over that same period. Auditors compared the months of April 2017 and April 2018 and found the reduction of revenue to the criminal justice system was over $325,000 for the one month.

State law mandates this revenue to be shared among 14 different agencies. In addition, auditors found that the district attorney and the public defender signed a cooperative endeavor agreement in March 2018 obligating the District Attorney’s office to pay the Public Defender’s office $45 for each diverted traffic citation. Such an arrangement may violate the state Constitution and state law. Auditors also found that bank deposits for the pretrial diversion program were not posted to other accounting records and the docket management system, which could result in the improper suspension of driver’s licenses, inaccurate court dockets, and/or missing funds.

According to the report, there were also deficiencies in record keeping, receipts, refunds issued and custody of payments received.