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Surcharge Amnesty

Posted by on in Just A Thought...
Amnesty for Drivers Responsibility Surcharges began on 1-17-2011..... Hooray!

For those who have defaulted on Texas Drivers Safety Responsibility surcharges assessed before 2009 call 1-(877) 207-3170.

A separate program for drivers that fall below 125% of the Federal poverty level is also coming in April, 2011 and will allow these individuals to reduce their surcharges. This is great news and for those who do not meet the poverty requirements but still can't afford their surcharges they can apply for an occupational license.

Bail bondsmen in Houston have followed this since the surcharges were first enacted and have seen huge numbers of citizens not only lose their driving privileges but as a result they have been arrested or ticketed for driving while license suspended or invalid. This is an important step toward common sense and it is my hope that the State of Texas will eventually repeal this law altogether.

The problems surrounding class c misdemeanors go far beyond the Drivers Responsibility surcharge, the next step toward a more equitable solution to the huge amount of open warrants that exist for traffic violations would be to change the way municipal and justice of the peace courts handle the capias profine.

A capias profine warrant is issued if a person receives a fine and then fails to pay an installment payment on time. Once the capias profine is issued the person no longer has the ability to pay the fine in installments and must pay the fine in full or risk going to jail. Consequently many people who have already fallen into this category and then receive another traffic ticket choose not to appear for any future court date out of fear that they will be arrested in court.

This policy compounds an already existing problem and offers no solution.

The policy now for Justice of the Peace cases in Harris County have been to arrest and jail first and then the defendant is taken before a magistrate and released. If the defendant pleads guilty they are released for time served, if the defendant pleads not guilty they are released on their own recognizance (their promise that they will appear). This policy presents and astronomical cost to tax payers and the majority of defendants plead guilty so there is no recovery. This process takes up to 24 hours before the defendant is eventually released. The idea here was to help prevent the crowding of the Harris County Jail. Before policies like this were instituted the process of being released from the Harris County Jail on Justice of the Peace charges was less than 4 hours.

The best policy would be to allow defendants to post a new bond when they fail to appear to pay a fine and be allowed to merge back into the system. Hundreds of thousands of open warrants could be resolved, fines would be paid and a huge portion of defendants would no longer be arrested.

This would benefit both tax payers and defendants. Money would go into the system instead of being sucked out and defendants would have the ability to choose between being arrested and not being arrested. Police officers typically patrol the same neighborhoods and could simply give them a warning instead of making an arrest with the understanding that if they fail to take action an arrest would be the next step. For defendants this means not losing time at work and possibly a loss of employment, the inconvenience of being incarcerated for 24 hours plays into job and family requirements and disrupts lives, given the choice most people will choose to take care of their open warrants.
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