California Penal Code Section 987.8
An assessment of attorney's fees against a criminal defendant involves the taking of property, triggering constitutional concerns.
Due process, therefore, requires that the defendant be afforded notice and a hearing before such a taking occurs. (People v. Amor (1974) 12 Cal.3d 20, 29-30; People v. Phillips (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 62, 72.)
Penal Code Section 987.8 sets forth the statutory procedure for ascertaining a criminal defendant's ability to repay the county for the cost of services rendered by court-appointed counsel.
Subdivision (b) of section 987.8 provides that "in any case in which a defendant is provided legal assistance, either through the public defender or private counsel appointed by the court, upon conclusion of the criminal proceedings in the trial court, or upon the withdrawal of the public defender or appointed private counsel, the court may, after notice and a hearing, make a determination of the present ability of the defendant to pay all or a portion of the cost thereof. The court may, in its discretion, hold one such additional hearing within six months of the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. The court may, in its discretion, order the defendant to appear before a county officer designated by the court to make an inquiry into the ability of the defendant to pay all or a portion of the legal assistance provided."
The notice to be given the defendant must contain "(1) A statement of the cost of the legal assistance provided to the defendant as determined by the court. (2) The defendant's procedural rights under this section. (3) The time limit within which the defendant's response is required. (4) A warning that if the defendant fails to appear before the designated officer, the officer will recommend that the court order the defendant to pay the full cost of the legal assistance provided to him or her." ( 987.8, subd. (d).)
At the hearing, "the defendant shall be entitled to, but shall not be limited to, all of the following rights:
(1) The right to be heard in person.
(2) The right to present witnesses and other documentary evidence.
(3) The right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses.
(4) The right to have the evidence against him or her disclosed to him or her.
(5) The right to a written statement of the findings of the court." ( 987.8, subd. (e).)
In the event "the court determines that the defendant has the present ability to pay all or a part of the cost, the court shall set the amount to be reimbursed and order the defendant to pay the sum to the county in the manner in which the court believes reasonable and compatible with the defendant's financial ability. Failure of a defendant who is not in custody to appear after due notice is a sufficient basis for an order directing the defendant to pay the full cost of the legal assistance determined by the court. The order to pay all or a part of the costs may be enforced in the manner provided for enforcement of money judgments generally but may not be enforced by contempt." ( 987.8, subd. (e).)
Pursuant to subdivision (f) of section 987.8, the trial court must inform a defendant that he or she might be liable for the costs of court-appointed counsel. Specifically, this statute states:
"Prior to the furnishing of counsel or legal assistance by the court, the court shall give notice to the defendant that the court may, after a hearing, make a determination of the present ability of the defendant to pay all or a portion of the cost of counsel. The court shall also give notice that, if the court determines that the defendant has the present ability, the court shall order him or her to pay all or a part of the cost. The notice shall inform the defendant that the order shall have the same force and effect as a judgment in a civil action and shall be subject to enforcement against the property of the defendant in the same manner as any other money judgment." (Ibid.)