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#1 2016-06-03 12:56:19

From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,205

Austin rethinks whether to jail poor people over traffic fines

An article in the Statesman questions whether it's okay to jail poor people who can't pay their traffic tickets.  They open with this case:

Statesman wrote:

Caught in a cycle of traffic tickets and expensive surcharges, Valerie Gonzales kept driving, even as she amassed fines of more than $4,500 she had no hope of paying.

The 31-year-old mother did not have a driver’s license but said she needed to get her five children to school. She had to get herself and her husband to work. Her family sometimes lived in her car, out of motels or at a homeless shelter. There were bills, medical expenses and everyday necessities they were struggling to afford.

But 12 hours after she was booked on traffic warrants last summer, an Austin municipal judge told her she would have to serve 45 days in Travis County Jail if she didn’t come up with at least $1,000 that day. She said the judge did not ask about her income or dependents; he did not ask whether she could settle the bill with community service; and he did not consider reducing her debt due to her inability to pay.

Her story became one of the first to highlight what civil rights advocates have called unlawful practices at the Austin Municipal Court when she and other mothers filed a lawsuit in October alleging city judges were illegally jailing poor residents who did not have the funds to settle their court fines.

As a side note, I was jailed in the late 90s for refusing to pay a traffic ticket I got on my bike, because I was protesting the fact that the drunk driver who killed Tom Churchill got no fine and no jail time, and NOT EVEN A TRAFFIC TICKET.  Me, I ran a stop sign after coming to a completely stop and carefully checking for cross traffic.  That warranted a ticket and jail, but the drunk killing of a cyclist did not.

But back to the topic at hand, whether to jail poor people for unpaid traffic tickets:  We could consider an alternative is license revocation, but in the case mentioned above, the driver just kept driving anyway.  Curiously, the Texas Transportation Code, Sec. 521.021 doesn't list a penalty for driving without a license, though legal blogs seem to suggest that it's the same penalty as failure to carry and show a license, which would be fines-only until the third conviction, at which point jail becomes possible 3 days to 6 months).

So what do you all think?  Jail poor people for traffic violations or not?  Mandatory jail for driving on a suspended license?


#2 2016-06-04 13:01:19

From: Austin
Registered: 2011-04-30
Posts: 82

Re: Austin rethinks whether to jail poor people over traffic fines

As much as I like the idea of getting unsafe drivers off the road, this is simply an instance of punishing a poor family for being poor in a city that refuses to provide viable mass transit.


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