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State Supreme Court rules on added fines for drug charges

In 1996, the General Assembly instituted a "drug offender surcharge," ranging from $300 to $4,500. Other surcharges now exist in Colorado for crimes outside of drug charges, though the ones levied for drug offenders have been explicitly determined to be punishment. Recently, two offenders brought the surcharge laws into question after being hit with them after they were sentenced.

According to the constitutions of the United States and the State of Colorado, an individual can only be prosecuted once for the same offense. Under this same right, the defendants argued that they may not receive more than one punishment from a court for the same offense. The Colorado Supreme Court has considered this issue, and ruled it was valid for the legislature to create multiple punishments for a single criminal act; for example, time served and a monetary fine.

While legislation may require mandatory surcharges, surcharges must be very explicitly required as an addition to specific sentences. If they are not mandatory, then adding a surcharge to a person's sentence may amount to a second punishment and be considered unconstitutional. Again, this argument particularly applied to drug charges, as the state has deemed surcharges in drug-related matters as "punishment." 

In the end, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed that monetary surcharges added post-sentencing are not of themselves unconstitutional. Even if the trial courts fail to impose the mandatory surcharges until after the sentencing, as long as the surcharges are indeed mandatory they can be added to a sentence after the fact. Individuals facing drug charges who need clarification of their rights and risks may benefit by working with a Colorado attorney.

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