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Penn Township scuttles fee for criminal processing

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

After a judge questioned the practice, Penn Township police have stopped charging criminal defendants a processing fee that was intended to raise money toward the potential purchase of a computerized fingerprinting system.

The $50 fee, which township commissioners passed in February, was going to be imposed on defendants arrested for felony, misdemeanor and summary criminal offenses.

But police scrapped it in April after determining the township didn't have the statutory authority through Pennsylvania law to impose the charge.

While sentencing some defendants last month for incidents in Penn Township, Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Alfred Bell requested clarification about the fee from township officials before ordering defendants to pay it, according to Henry Moore, Bell's law clerk.

Neither Rostraver nor North Huntingdon — the other first-class townships in the county — had a similar charge, Moore said.

“This was one we'd never heard about before,” he said.

Rachel Yantos, a solicitor for the township, told commissioners last month that only three or four arrests were processed with the fee included. She did not return messages requesting comment for this story.

The goal of the fee, police Chief John Otto said, was to recoup expenses related to the processing of criminal cases and to build up a fund in case the department has to purchase what's known as a live-scan system for fingerprint images, mug shots and other data within the next few years.

Otto, who estimated the cost of a new system could be between $35,000 and $50,000, said the intention was to charge the people involved in a suspected crime instead of having taxpayers cover the tab.

“Because these are so expensive, what municipality can go out and pick up $50,000 for a live-scan system?” he said.

The criminal-processing fee was among changes commissioners made to the township's fee schedule for such as township services, bond conditions and pavilion rentals.

The township's fee schedule previously had a $50 fee for processing cases of driving under the influence, although the township hadn't charged it for years, Otto said.

State law allows municipalities to receive full restitution from defendants in driving-under-the-influence cases for blood draws and an analysis by the state police crime lab.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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