California Launches Amnesty Program for Traffic Debt

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California launched an amnesty program for unpaid traffic tickets on October 1. The Jerry Brown-backed initiative will provide support for low-income motorists who haven’t been able to pay off their tickets and reinstate driver’s licenses to those who had them revoked as a result of unpaid citations.

With the amnesty program, those who qualify will be able to pay 50 or 80 percent of their ticket’s value (depending on their income), while others will be able to work out a payment plan. The program applies to tickets received before Jan. 1, 2013. Drivers will be able to apply for the program until March 31, 2017.

The expenses incurred by parking tickets, as well as DUI and reckless driving offenses, will not be eligible for the program.

In addition to receiving reduced fines, some drivers will also be able to have their licenses reinstated under the program. This issue received the attention of the governor in part because civil rights groups reported that 4.2 million Californians have had their licenses suspended due to unpaid traffic fines in the past eight years.

California has received criticism for how prohibitively expensive its traffic tickets are. Governor Brown referred to the traffic court system as a “hellhole of desperation” for low-income residents. Citation fees rose dramatically during the recession, and the courts now depend on the massive amounts of revenue from the tickets. According to NBC, twenty years ago, a red-light violation resulted in a $103; today, the same ticket is around $490 (not including court fees and late penalties, which can make the citation quickly rise to around $800). Because the fees grow so much when a payment is missed, the state is essentially profiting off of the misfortune of those who are unable to pay their tickets.

Losing a license can dramatically affect daily life and employment. As Mark Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty told LA Weekly, ”Suspension of a driver’s license makes it hard for people to keep their jobs and many employers will not hire persons with a suspended license. This scenario ends up trapping people in a cycle of poverty that is hard to escape.”

In addition to amnesty, the bill will allow drivers to challenge traffic citations without accruing court fees.

Motorists can call their local courthouse to see if they are eligible for the payment plan or amnesty. For more information on the bill, see the California Courts Website.

Video: Jay Beeber, Executive Director of Safer Streets LA recommends that motorists should seek a free consultation from a traffic lawyer, even if they qualify for amnesty, to see if they can get their ticket dismissed.


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