Breaking the law breaks the bank for many defendants

- You can't afford to break the law and we're going to prove it.

The cost of committing a crime - in dollars and cents - is simply astronomical and attorneys say their clients are unaware of that crushing fact until after they feel the cold steel of handcuffs snap around their wrists.

"It is a life changing experience," said criminal defense attorney Anthony Rickman. "Most people who are accused of a crime don't realize how much it's going to cost them down the road."

For a dose of reality, Rickman invited FOX 13 News to traffic court. An outsider like may see the courtroom of Judge Lawrence Lefler resembling an assembly line. Cases flash by. People shuffle. Jargon flies. Each case costs the defendant dearly, but you'd only know if you were trained to really decipher the sounds of the finely tuned criminal conveyor belt.

Occasionally, Lefler's rulings are in plain English - as was the case with a defendant who had been caught driving without a license multiple times.

"You need to stop driving without a valid driver's license," Lefler said from the bench. "Don't drive!"

His agitation became even more obvious in his halting cadence.

"Do. Not. Drive."

The rest of the cases, mainly DUI charges, were scripted and repetitive.

Lefler launched into a routine that began with, "I'm going to adjudicate you guilty."

With that phrase, repeated so many times we lost count, the typical defendant was placed on the hook for thousands of dollars.

One Ad Council billboard warns boozy drivers that by blowing a breathalyzer test, 'You just blew $10,000.'

"It's accurate," Rickman said, adding DUI defendants can expect to pay (but rarely are aware of) fines, fees, and court costs that might add up to thousands of dollars, not including the cost of an attorney.

On top of that tall bill, DUI drivers are required to carry special car insurance called SR-22 or FR-44 that costs more than regular insurance. Personal finance website WalletHub.com says coverage for "at-risk" drivers costs 148-percent more than traditional coverage, and you can be required to carry it for years.

That will add up fast.

Rickman noted lawbreakers also pay dearly for probation, community service hours, and even the time you spend in jail.

"Your stay at the Hillsborough County jail isn't free," he said. "They're gonna charge about $45 a day."

Even if you aren't arrested and carted to the county jail, your case could still cost a small fortune.

Trixie Cruz knows that all too well.

"I don't think anyone realizes how expensive it is to break the law," she said. "It's honestly not worth it."

Cruz's case started with an open container of alcohol outside the Kennedy nightclub in South Tampa. Since then, she's been on a costly legal odyssey.

"I'm about $2,000 in debt," she said.

Outside the courthouse, she thumbs through a stack of case records.

They look like doctor's bills. We asked Cruz whether she kicks herself when see adds us the price of her mistake.

"I punch myself," she said.

The reality is, there is no such thing as a cheap criminal case. We asked Rickman to give us rough estimates for three common crimes.

We stared with a fight. He said a single punch is going to cost thousands or more.

"That one swing can cost you somewhere about $2,000, if not more," he said. "Maybe it'll cost you $5,000 in lawyer fees."

Restitution, such as replacing the victim's missing tooth, can add hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands to the total.

Rickman said drug cases are particularly hard on the wallet.

"A felony drug case, you're looking at between three and f$5,000 in fines and court costs and probation costs when all is said and done," he said. "And that doesn't include lawyer costs."

Even seemingly simple crimes of opportunity - like swiping a package from a neighbor's doorstep - will add long-lasting complexities to your household finances.

"A package? That's potentially a federal offense," he warned. "Now you're in federal court, which is a whole different story... much more expensive."

If neither morality nor the prospect of facing a jurist like Judge Lefler are enough of a deterrent, take some advice from Trixie Cruz. She says two aspects about her life are devastatingly real: her criminal record and her criminal regret.

If you are faced with that impulse to cross the line, she recommends letting your financial mind intervene and stop you.

"Take a deep breath and walk away," she said. "Because it's not worth it."

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