My Fine is How Much! What is a Penalty Assessment, and how is it Calculated?

My Fine is How Much! What is a Penalty Assessment, and how is it Calculated?

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Penalty Assessment Attorney Lance M. FilerPenalty Assessment is an evil word in traffic court.   Imagine that you are driving down the street and suddenly you notice the red and blue lights of a police cruiser in your rearview mirror. Thinking you have done nothing wrong, you slow down and pull over to allow the officer to pass when you notice that the officer stops behind you. The Officers exit, approach your window and inform you that the left turn you made onto a one-way street the block before is not allowed between the hours of 3pm and 7pm. Thanks to your GPS app on your smartphone, (and not paying particular attention to the posted city signs) you have just committed a traffic violation.

Now let’s say the Judge tells you that the court will charge you the base fine of $35 for the illegal left turn plus “penalty assessment” if you plead guilty or no contest and will allow you to attend traffic school as well to remove the point from your driving record. This sounds like a good deal to you, the only real numbers you heard was $35 which is about what you paid in gas money and courthouse parking that morning. That certainly seems reasonable and you exhale deciding that the fine will be less than another trip to court to argue the ticket with the police officer. Not too bad, $35 plus something called “penalty assessment” but what does that mean anyway? So you take the deal and report to the cashiers’ line to pay what you think is about $35 dollars.  You then almost pass-out when the cashier behind the window states your fine total is not $35, but rather $292!

Wait!!! How did my fine go from $35 to more than 6 times that amount? This is an outrage! Why would the court instruct me on $35 fine and then jack up the price to nearly $300 after I have already entered my plea? Where does this penalty assessment come from and where does all of that money eventually go? We can all thank the statutory concept of “penalty assessment” for the change in fee total. Lesson learned, before entering a plea ask the Judge for an “estimated” fine total before entering a plea.

Base Fine Amount

The base fine of a traffic citation is determined by State Statue and the Judicial Council of California, whom is the Court’s governing body. In this case the $35 for the moving violation of making a left-turn during rush hour.

Penalty Assessment

In Los Angeles County a Penalty Assessment (PA) is an additional penalty of $28 added for every $10, or part of every $10, upon every fine, penalty, or forfeiture imposed by and collected by the court for criminal offenses. The $28 of (PA) breaks down as such:

$10 = State Penalty required by PC §1464

$7 = Court Penalty required by GC §76000(e)

$5 = State Court construction penalty required by GC §70372(a)

$4 = DNA Identification Fund penalty required by GC §76104.6 & §76104.7

$2 = Emergency medical services penalty required by GC §76000.5

It’s also important to note that if you are convicted of the charged crime the fines go even higher. PC §1465.8 carries an additional $40 for court operations on every conviction for a criminal office, including traffic. A bit of good news is that the $40 total will now be reduced to $30 after July 1st, 2013.

Government Code §70373 imposing more Conviction Fines.

$30 = Misdemeanor

$35 = Felony

Prior Offenses:

Moving violations of the Vehicle Codes are often called “points” on a driving record bring an additional $10 for each “prior” conviction of a “point” or moving violation. A $4 fee will be added to each prior “non-moving” violation ($4).

Traffic School Fee:

If you choose to attend traffic school rather than pay for your citation and accept the point on your traffic record, a fee of $49 will be added to the total bill.


Orange County Distinction

In Orange County the Penalty Assessment (PA) is the amount added to base fines or base bail on infractions, misdemeanor and felony offenses. In OC the penalty assessment is $29 for each $10 or of any portion of the fine amount or bail. The Assessment is charged pursuant to Penal Code 1464 and Governmental Codes 76000, 70372, 76104.6, 76104.7 and 76000.5. This amount is set by the California State Legislature, not the Superior Court.

Orange County charges other fees and Assessments as well.

Orange County Speeding Violation Example

Let’s say you are pulled over by the police and are given a ticket for a speeding violation (VC § 22350), which carries a base fine of $35. If you are forced to post the fine on this ticket, or if you plea or are found guilty you will be required to pay a $238.00 fine.  How you ever wondered where that money goes and how it’s calculated?

Base Fine amount = $35

$.70 = Trial Court Improvement Fund

$5.14 = County share of City Fines

$29.16 = Deposited to the County Treasurer


Penalty Assessment = $116

$2.40 = Trial Court Improvement fund

$27.44 = State Penalty fund

$39.20 = County penalty fund

$19.60 = State court facilities construction fund

$19.60 = DNA Identification fund

$7.84 = County Emergency Medical Services

$7.00 = State Surcharge 20%

$40.00 = Court Operations Fee

$35.00 = Convictions Assess Fee

$3.92 = Emergency Medical Air Transportation

$1.00 = Night court fee.


Totals up to a total fine of $238.00


Other Violations of the Vehicle Codes that could increase your Violation Fine Amount:

Highway Construction or Maintenance Area Offenses (Vehicle Code §42009)

Infractions: Fine is increased by $35 if committed in a highway construction or maintenance area.

Misdemeanors: The bail amount is DOUBLED, if committed in a highway construction or maintenance area.

Overall, deciding how to handle your Criminal or Civil case depends on your individual circumstances. Therefore, it is imperative that you contact an experienced attorney  to assist your needs.  If you require representation on the above or any other criminal matter, feel free to reach me directly at The Law Offices of Mark A. Gallagher: (800) 797 – 8406 and email:

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