Court Fines and the Poor

An alternative to paying court debt: Working it off, By Rebecca Beitsch, April 4, 2017, Stateline: “When Steven Robinson first landed in county jail here for cocaine possession about a year ago, he had about $12,000 in court debt and his driver’s license had been suspended for more than 20 years because he never paid off earlier fines and fees. But Robinson, 47, and other inmates in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail are allowed to do community service to work off the debt that they rack up in fines and fees on their way through the court system. By doing more than 1,000 hours of community service while serving time, Robinson has gotten his debt down to about $5,000…”

Driver’s License Suspensions – Minnesota

Unpaid traffic tickets — debt trap for the poor — in MN legislators’ sights, By Bill Salisbury, April 2, 2017, Pioneer Press: “For Carmen Mask, 2009 was a rough year. Mask and her husband divorced, her household income dropped from around $80,000 to $25,000 a year, and she and her three sons moved from their St. Paul house to an apartment. While moving in an old van her ex had left her, a police officer pulled her over and gave her a traffic ticket for driving with a broken tail light. He also told her that her insurance had expired. ‘I was really struggling at that time, and I forgot about the ticket,’ said Mask, 45, an employment counselor who now lives in Minnetonka and works in St. Paul. Soon another cop ticketed her for driving an uninsured vehicle. She couldn’t afford to pay the fine or the insurance, she said, and her driver’s license was suspended. Then a few weeks later, another officer stopped her and handed her a warrant for her arrest…”

Court Fines and the Poor

Court costs can be crippling for low-income drivers, report says, Associated Press, May 31, 2016, Roanoke Times: “Kimberly Hopkins was so strapped for cash, she was selling her blood plasma to make ends meet. When a court socked her with a $25 monthly payment for a speeding ticket and court costs, the divorced mother of four simply couldn’t pay. ‘Sometimes I just did not have it at the end of the month,’ the 44-year-old Amherst County resident said.  So she defaulted on the payment plan and her driver’s license was suspended. She continued driving, out of necessity, and got caught, resulting in more fines and costs. Her total court obligation swelled to about $1,500 — an impossible sum for Hopkins, who by then was unemployed and unable to legally drive anywhere to apply for jobs…”

Court Fines and the Poor – California

California unveils amnesty program for unpaid traffic tickets, By Kurtis Alexander, September 30, 2015, San Francisco Chronicle: “Millions of California motorists with suspended licenses have a chance to win back their driving privileges at a discount, starting Thursday, under a state amnesty program for unpaid traffic tickets. The state is cutting fines by at least half and waiving late fees for payments on tickets that were due before Jan. 1, 2013, an effort to eliminate what Gov. Jerry Brown called a ‘hellhole of desperation’ for those who can’t afford penalties and lost their licenses as a result. Brown signed the amnesty legislation in June. It takes effect Thursday and runs until March 2017…”

Driver’s License Suspensions – Milwaukee, WI

Ticket to nowhere: The hidden cost of driver’s license suspensions, By Vivian Wang, August 15, 2015, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Just after midnight in May 2014, April Williams loaded groceries into her car at Woodman’s Food Market in Menomonee Falls and prepared to drive home. Before she even left the parking lot, a police officer pulled her over and wrote two tickets: one for a broken taillight, one for driving without insurance. She couldn’t pay the tickets — she had filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was unemployed — but didn’t think much of it. In the weeks ahead, the single mother kept driving, keeping appointments for her children and meeting her case manager at a W-2 agency for help with her job search. In September she was pulled over again, this time for expired plates. She also got a ticket for a violation she never expected: operating while suspended…”