a city “warrant roundup” this year, which, at least from a financial perspective, went dismally. The city arrested 893 people in the roundup. According to the briefing, judges granted 96 percent of the defendants “time served” rather than holding them to fines.The city manager claims those numbers raise "questions as to the value of the warrant roundup effort, or any effort by police, to arrest those ignoring city notices," but I couldn't disagree more. Arrest and a night in jail is adequate punishment for most Class C scofflaws, by any public safety measure. To me, the concerns raised by the city manager speak more to the transformation of enforcement of petty municipal statutes in recent years from an issue of public order to a mere cash cow. The purpose of criminal law is not to turn a profit, and these judges' job is not to maximize revenue, but to the city manager they're not doing their job if they don't wring every last dime from defendants. That mentality both misunderstands and deforms the justice system.
“If a person has ten tickets and is in jail one day, all tickets are credited with the one day,” the briefing says.
The roundup’s defendants had about $538,000 worth of tickets. But once in front of judges, they were fined only $20,360, the briefing says. Of that, only $2,187 has been collected.
Meanwhile, the city spent $71,000 to make the arrests.
Notably, the New York Times on Sunday had a feature about municipal courts in New York City, which there are called "summons courts," declaring that "New York is a multiracial city, but judging from the faces in cramped courtrooms, one would think that whites scarcely ever commit the petty offenses that lead to the more than 500,000 summonses issued in the city every year." One of the judges was quoted saying only black and Latino people were ever charged in his court with drinking alcohol in public. “As hard as I try,” he wrote, “I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation.” Grits has not spent any time in Dallas municipal courts, but I'll bet the racial makeup of those who cycle through there isn't much different than described in NYC.
The Dallas News story cited a BS calculation that "Last fiscal year, the city collected only about 25 percent of the $43 million that would have been realized under a perfect-world scenario for city officials — a world in which everyone who took care of their tickets did so by simply paying up." But that's absurd! For starters, it assumes everyone is guilty, and that due process rights are an annoyance we'd be better off ignoring "in a perfect world." In New York, the Times reported, the majority of those who show up for court "will have their cases dismissed because the charge is not substantiated or because the judge thinks it is nonsense." The Dallas News story offered no judges' assessment about why cases are dismissed or fines reduced (they called the administrative judge for comment but he didn't call back before deadline), instead letting the city manager portray the jurists as soft on crime. Sounds to me like a cheap shot.
MORE: From the Dallas News City Hall Blog. AND MORE: Chief judge blasts back at briefing on the court system.