Judges might also be unlikely to dismiss fees because municipalities have become so dependent on the revenue — as in Washington state, where interest rates on unpaid fees are 12 percent, or in Ferguson, where revenue from court fees increased 80 percent in two years. Courts “are not an ATM for the city council,” says Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who co-chairs a national task force on fines, fees and bail. “You’re not supposed to be funding your operation from fines or fees.” But, she says, “judges want to have decent facilities. They want to have support staff. It may very well be that local funding sources . . . have said, ‘You’ve got to pay for your own keep.’ That’s not the way it should be.”At the Houston Chronicle, Bobby Cervantes today has an item reacting to Judge Spillane's piece. His article opened with this promising assessment:
The judges I’ve spoken with who jail these defendants fall into several categories. Some simply do not understand the requirement to hold indigency hearings. One judge told BuzzFeed that in nine years on the bench, she’d never given a defendant an alternative to jail, and she insisted that she was not required to offer one. But O’Connor says there’s “no excuse” for judges to be ignorant of the law, thanks to the training and continuing educational opportunities available to them. “If they don’t know, then they weren’t listening.”
Others know the law but agree to jail defendants who say they’d prefer it to community service, which is still not allowed under law. And some look upon granting alternative sentences and waiving fines as a slippery slope to not taking crime seriously. My experience with defendants has been exactly the opposite.
The strides Texas policymakers have made in recent years on criminal justice reform have been one of the few bright spots on the state’s record nationally. They can be some of the most complicated issues each legislative session – from decriminalizing truancy to trashing the ‘pick-a-pal’ system in grand jury selection last year – but they are largely seen as worth the effort when it’s all done.From your keyboard to God's ear, Bobby!
There has been one issue on this front that has, so far in the interim, gotten so much attention from Republicans and Democrats alike that it can be placed atop a to-do list for lawmakers next session, and there’s mounting evidence that they can’t look away anymore. Modern-day debtors’ prisons, where someone is locked up because he can’t pay a fine levied by a court, have sprouted up around the state. They have served, by all accounts, to make poor Texans that much poorer, by interrupting their lives and jobs and sending them to jail for failing to pay a tab they never were going to meet.
Target No. 1 is the Driver Responsibility Program, which came under bipartisan fire earlier this year for requiring drivers who are convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay an added annual fee on top of the court fines already imposed by a judge. If they can’t, they lose their driver’s license, a situation that has left an estimated 1.3 million drivers without valid licenses, according to a civil rights group.