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Prisoner must pay for stay in lockup

Prison is no hotel, but William J. McMurray is paying for his room and upkeep all the same.

The Inverness man must pay $50 a day to cover the cost of incarceration. A judge made that part of McMurray's punishment for violating probation, and now an appellate court has agreed.

In a brief opinion issued Thursday, a three-judge panel from the 5th District Court of Appeal said Circuit Judge Ric Howard was correct to assess McMurray the $50 per day fee.

State law calls for prisoners to make such payments, and the Florida Supreme Court previously has found the statute to be constitutional, the appellate panel noted.

McMurray, now 34, was arrested in September 2002 and charged with driving while license suspended/habitual offender, court records show.

Three months later, he pleaded no contest. There was no plea bargain with prosecutors, so sentencing was up the judge.

Howard gave him a four-year suspended prison sentence and ordered McMurray to complete 18 months of probation, court records show.

In August 2003, authorities accused McMurray of violating probation. Court records don't indicate the nature of the alleged violation.

But one month later, back in Howard's courtroom, McMurray admitted to the violation, and the judge sent him to prison for the four-year term.

In his appeal, McMurray argued that Howard didn't have authority to assess the $50 daily fee. But Judge Richard B. Orfinger disagreed, as did the panel's two other judges, Emerson R. Thompson Jr. and William D. Palmer.

The panel also wrote that, pursuant to the statute, the order imposing the fee will be enforced the same way a judgment in a civil action would be enforced.