After sentencing, a defendant is handcuffed in the courtroom by a Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
But before they are escorted back to the jail and eventually a Georgia prison to serve their time, defendants convicted of drug trafficking cases also are fined thousands of dollars.
Fines start at $50,000 for some drugs and reach as high as $1 million, with surcharges and additional fees on top.
Defendants make small monthly payments toward the balance, according to Brandi Paul, who works in the Hall County Clerk’s Office.
“They are not going to be anything that would make a dent in that fine balance,” Paul said.
Two recent cases serve as examples of what kind of fines are imposed.
Morphine, opium, heroin
4-14 grams: $50,000 fine
14-28 grams: $100,000 fine
28 grams or more: $500,000 fine
10-2,000 pounds: $100,000 fine
2,000-10,000 pounds: $250,000 fine
10,000 pounds or more: $1 million fine
28-200 grams: $200,000 fine
200-400 grams: $300,000 fine
400 grams or more: $1 million
Jessica Ashley Clanton, 38, of Buford, was sentenced Jan. 31 to 10 years behind bars and then another 20 on probation after she was found with seven 1-ounce bags of meth, which have a street value of $19,600.
On top of her time, she is ordered to pay a $350,055 fine.
Brittany Nicole Grizzle, 26, of Dahlonega, was sentenced in November to 25 years behind bars and more than $875,000 in fines in a heroin trafficking case.
Agents said Grizzle and a co-defendant had 5 ounces of heroin in different bags, seven alprazolam pills and a gram of marijuana. The estimated street value of the drugs was $27,575.
Grizzle’s attorney, Andy Maddox, said he didn’t “expect much opportunity for paying the fine.”
During sentencing, Maddox argued that Grizzle “doesn’t deserve what the law requires” and that we “are already on the cusp of the prison budget being equal to or exceeding the Department of Education budget.”
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal concurred in part.
“I don’t know that necessarily the legislature was thinking of someone like you when they came up with that as the appropriate punishment,” Deal said before imposing the mandatory minimum sentence.
When asked about elements of the mandatory minimum punishments that he personally disagrees with, Deal declined to answer.
If a fine is not paid by the end of the sentence, a lien can be taken out against the defendant. Deal said the Department of Community Supervision, which took responsibility of overseeing parolees and probationers in 2015, could seek a court-ordered monetary judgment against the defendant, which would empower the sheriff to collect the money or property of similar value.
The Times could find no cases of monetary judgments being issued. A search of the Hall County Comprehensive Justice Information System for any monetary judgment cases brought by the Department of Community Supervision or the agencies that preceded it in supervision — the State Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Corrections — turned up nothing.
“Once that sentence terminates, any fines or fees especially due to probation … that fee terminates with the sentence,” DCS external affairs director Brian Tukes said.
DCS spokesman Jamelle Washington said the judges and the court “more closely monitor the payment of fines and fees as part of the judicial order.”
“A judge has complete discretion to extend the sentence, toll the sentence and whatnot, and if they do, then we’ll continue to enforce those conditions, but if a judge sets a termination date, we have to terminate our responsibility to that case,” Tukes said, meaning DCS would no longer seek to have the fine paid.
Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden said there are “probably certain circumstances and situations where defendants have the ability to pay those (fines).
“I think the reality is the majority of defendants that are coming through are not going to have the ability to pay those,” he said.
In researching the history of these fines, Bearden pointed to a Mercer Law Review volume that mentioned the 1988 Georgia General Assembly passing an amendment to the drug trafficking statute that “substantially increased all fines for such offenses.”