THE INVESTIGATORS: Failure to pay - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

THE INVESTIGATORS: Failure to pay

(Source: WAFB) (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

When someone is convicted of a crime, often times, a judge will order that the defendant pay the victim a certain amount of money. It is called restitution. The 9News Investigators discovered a flaw in the system that has created a tremendous failure to pay. As a result, instead of getting justice, the victims wind up hurt again.

Zebbie Rolls loves to work on cars and motorcycles. It's been a hobby of his for as long as he can remember. You would not know it looking at him today, but just over ten years ago, Zebbie said he was beaten so badly he didn't know whether he would ever ride again.

“I thought I was going to die,” Rolls said.

It was a Friday night in August of 2005, Zebbie said he was attacked by a stranger at a bar.

“I walked through the door. I walked up to the owner, started talking to him. The owner looks at (the man) and nods his head, and then (the man) hit me with the wine glass,” Rolls said.

Zebbie remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I thought he had shot me. I reached and I touched my face and I looked down. I was bleeding profusely,” Rolls said.

Zebbie said he was rushed to the hospital and had to get 54 stitches. The man who hit him was arrested and charged with assault.  Zebbie hired an attorney and, four years later, got his day in court. 

According to court documents, in 2009, Nineteenth Judicial District Judge William Morvant ordered that the defendant pay $3,648 for medical bills and $20,000 in damages, plus court costs and interest.

This is also known as restitution. A judge can order someone convicted of any crime, whether it be violence, property, or financial crimes, to pay a victim as part of their punishment. Eight years later, Zebbie said he has not seen a dime.

Nineteenth JDC Judge don Johnson is one of eight criminal court judges in the Baton Rouge district who orders defendants to pay restitution. Johnson said when it comes to not paying up, he has heard every excuse in the book.

“It happens more often than one would think. Some citizens will come in and explain the circumstances of why they have not paid, others will not show up at all, and others will simply not obey the order,” Johnson said.

Since Zebbie’s case is in civil court, he is responsible for making sure he gets the money. But in criminal cases, the Louisiana Department of Probation and Parole is tasked with supervising the court order and making sure the defendants pay.

Even so, records show, collecting money owed to victims is a challenge, and not just in the 19th JDC. Twenty-third JDC DA Ricky Babin covering Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes said it is nothing new.

“It’s a huge problem. I'm part of the system, and I'll be the first to admit it's a dismal collection record,” Babin said.

The 9News Investigators looked at the Department of Probation and Parole's record of restitution orders and payments in the 23rd JDC over the last three years. More than 70% of the defendants ordered to pay restitution, have not made a single payment in the last 60 days. The total still outstanding, according to those records, is over $1.2 million.

“Is it better than nothing? Yes. Does it give us a method to collect? Yes. But if you're asking me, I have a restitution order worth $100,000, what's the likelihood of collecting $100,000? I'd have to say, slim,” Babin said.

Babin said, often times, prosecutors in his office lose time trying criminal cases because they find themselves explaining the lack of payment to victims. 

“It costs us time and money. Basically, we are a collection agency,” Babin said.

Director of Probation and Parole Pete Fremin said his department is responsible for collecting restitution for 40 parishes in the state including the 23rd JDC. Fremin admits it is a problem statewide.

“Presently in Probation and Parole we have 72,000 cases and only 510 officers,” Fremin said.

Fremin said his department does not have enough officers to keep up. He said, in some cases, the judge sets a payment plan, which makes the collection process easier. But a lot of times a judge will not flag a defendant as delinquent until the probation period is up making the wait even longer for victims. Fremin said there is a flaw in the system.

“I really do. I think none of us have the manpower or the resources to do just cause. You can never make a victim whole. Sometimes the ability to pay is just not there,” Fremin said.

Fremin said when that happens, there is also the fear that the convict will commit another crime to come up with the money and avoid going to jail.

“If they think they'll go to jail, what would you do? Hey, I'm going to go to jail if I don't come up with this money. Then they are going to commit another crime then we have more victims,” Fremin said.

Fremin said it is going to take more money and resources to make the system run smoother. “We are going to have to invest the time, the agents. It's going to take a buy-in from my department, the DA and the sheriff,” Fremin said.

As for civil cases, like Zebbie's, there is nothing the state can do. But Judge Johnson said that does not mean the victims should give up.

“You can move me. You can come to court and say, judge you ordered defendant X to pay me. He's not paying me. I want to seek relief,” Johnson said.

Zebbie fears it is too late for him but hopes his story will help bring about change.

“I would like the legal system to know there's people out there like me. They need to help more,” Rolls said.

Pete Fremin, with Probation and Parole, said he is hoping the governor's Justice Reinvestment Task Force, aimed at cutting the state's prison population, will also take a good hard look at monetary obligations ordered in court and set forth a smoother process for collecting restitution.

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