Monday, December 06, 2010

Federal suit filed to declare TX Driver Responsibility surcharge unconstitutional

If the Legislature doesn't abolish the Driver Responsibility Surcharge, might federal courts intervene to scrap the program? Reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Mimi Coffey wants to scrap Texas' Driver Responsibility Program.

If she doesn't accomplish the task first, the Texas Legislature appears poised to do so.

The Fort Worth defense attorney has filed a federal lawsuit asserting that the surcharges assessed through the program are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.

The act, established in 2003, violates the double-jeopardy clause in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits the government from imposing more than one punishment for a single offense, Coffey said.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
The story concluded by noting that:
Mothers Against Drunk Driving said it would support eliminating the program if the state replaces funding to trauma centers, which receive about half of the collected surcharges.

"We have seen nothing that shows the program helps deter drunken driving," said Bill Lewis, a MADD public policy liaison, who testified before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee in October. He thinks this is so because the public seems to be unaware of it.

"The time is right politically," Coffey said. "This is not an issue of where you stand on drunk driving. This is about civil rights."


Don said...

This irresponsible action never pretended to have anything to do with drunk driving. It was a revenue measure, and that's all. It mostly failed at that, too. However it goes away, it needs to to go away. But I'm a bit surprised that apparently that may happen. It's like the Texas Lege is admitting that they made a (gulp) mistake. One question, Scott. The new rules adopted, indigence and amnesty, are set to go into effect the first part of the year, right? If the lege acts to repeal the mess, that will probably be effective like Sept. 1st. Or maybe next January. That won't affect the new rules between now and then, will it? Or is it possible that they would make it effective more immediately?

Anonymous said...

If Rep. Bernam is interested in not having a surcharge imposed for a conviction for the "minor offense" of driving without financial responsibility, all he has to do is amend Transportation Code Section 708.103 to delete that offense from the statute.

And the last time I looked at the list of "moving violations" for which points are imposed that can lead to a surcharge, "driving without a valid inspection sticker" is not on the list, leading me to believe that the rep. does not know of what he speaks when he says he's specifically targeting that offense.

A Texas PO said...

The Lege makes mistakes every time they meet. This is one law that needs to go away and it needs to take effect immediately. It never did what it was intended to do, harmed those with the ability to pay, and created more criminal problems who couldn't pay. From a probation standpoint, the TDR created another barrier to law-abiding behavior by preventing offenders from obtaining valid DLs to get to and from work, probation visits, and programs/classes. TDR also created a major liability problem for probation and parole officers. If we know someone is driving without a driver's license and we don't take steps stop them, and an accident/injury/death occurs, the probation officer can be held as a liable party. If the Legislators were held liable for the same for their piss-poor legislation based on politics rather than evidence-based practices, this would have been repealed in special session long ago.

Anonymous said...

Trade DRP for Roadblocks. Lesser evil,

WouldBeKing said...

It's a pretty bad situation all around. You have the current method of holding people "responsible", being the fines and fees, which stack and stack and stack. This can get people into a complete hole from which they cannot recover (with any sort of ease, anyway).

So, what do you do? Get rid of the fines but enhance the penalty for the related offense? Then you get an influx of those cases, further burdening the DA's offices.

Drivers who violate the law must be held accountable in some way.

Anonymous said...

It also goes against our 8th admendment: The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:08, there were already criminal laws on the books to hold them accountable. Why not just enforce those laws?

As for "what do you do?" Perhaps punishments and criminal penalties aren't the only way to address social problems.

WouldBeKing said...

@Grits: The law ends up being a class C or class B misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the offense. Most of the time the class Bs are plead to class Cs when they reach the county level. Essentially, they end up with another ticket and more fines.

As we've already mentioned, fines aren't doing a whole lot of good, but (aside from your Bell county post) most county court and jail systems wouldn't be able to cope well with the actual prosecution and detainment of all of those violators.

As to your link to your prior article. I completely agree, more public transportation options would be awesome (for many reasons). Unfortunately, due to Texas' wide open spaces, it isn't always practical.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:08, be more creative.

Where public transport isn't available, consider the "Wingman" idea that was begun around colleges as a small business, if I'm not mistaken. A drunk calls the service, someone comes over on a portable motorized scooter that can be folded up and put into the trunk. They drive the drunk home for a fee then take their scooter out and go back to work. If we're willing to spend all the money on police, courts, incarceration and other punishment costs, why not subsidize something like that to prevent DWIs instead of just punish them through the justice system?

There is more than one way to skin a cat if you don't limit yourself to thinking that the only legitimate approach to the problem is ever-harsher punishments.

WouldBeKing said...

I'm not at all closed minded to any alternative ideas. There was a guy in Denver, I believe, who bought his own bus for that purpose after a friend was killed by a DWI. Good on him.

I would imagine there would be a good amount of resistance to government subsidies of such services, for many reasons (unless Jeremy Clarkson was the driver).

Don said...

The public transportation, even the scooter deal, would probably help some. But DWI is a problem that there is no total solution for. The truth is that, generally, drunks want to drive. And to a certain extent, they will.

chris n wtx said...

roadblocks for surcharges?? oh ok lets trade one civil rights voilataion for another that makes it right. roadblocks presume that everyone is guilty of something lets stop them and see if we can figure out what it is. this violate the principle of inocent till proven guilty, maybe not in the letter of the law but in spirit, as well as freedom from unreasonable serc. just because someone operated a vehicle doesnt mean they deserve to be stopped and checked. what happened to reasonable cause. if there is validity to that course of acton then why not stop pedestrians check their pockets for drugs,run their id for warrents, check their eyes for redness,, they were walking on a public sidewalk right?? i mean we are all guilty of something right?? welcome to america, please present your papers, comrade!

Daniel Montes said...

I received three traffic tickets last Sunday. Today, plead not guilty in Dallas County JP 1-2 Judge Valencia Nash's court. I further filed a motion for discovery, motion to dismiss no mc dl and a motion to declare chapter 708 "surcharge" of the Texas Trans Code, unconstitutional. Be advised that I intend to take this all the way to the US Sup Ct. Watch this case make it from JP court all the way to Washington through Austin. Trust me. The courts might not listen to me because I am pro se. Its like the constitution does not exist in this country. No matter its insolvent anyway. /s/ Daniel Montes, 469-563-8998,

Daniel Montes said...

Hearing has been set for July 25th at 9a for the motion to declare Ch 708 of the TX Trans Code unconstitutional. Judge Valencia Nash presiding. I welcome all to attend in support of the motion. Also, can someone notify the news outlets to bring their news crews out to cover the hearing. This is the beginning of the end of this statute. Please get the word out across the state. I am trying as an individual citizen to strike this unlawful tax. Give me a hand. If you have any questions to give me a call. Thank you, Daniel Montes 469-563-8998 cell.

Ben said...

I know this post is a bit old. But for those that have not ran into this the "surcharge" also effects people who HAVE insurance.

I have a suspended lisc right now due to these surcharges. I only found out today. I got a "driving without insurance" ticket a cpl years back. I went to the court and showed proof of insurance and I thought the matter was solved. Apparently that is not the case. So now I have an unpaid ticket which I already dealt with once. A surcharge making it look like I don't have insurance. AND a suspended license. Thank you Texas.
I have had SafeCo writing my insurance and Progressive since 2000 and have never missed a payment. Fix your system first Texas and DPS with the "license plate scanners" then maybe you would have a leg to stand on. I hope this law gets repealed and fast, before I'm forced to pay these extortion fees to get my license back.

Anonymous said...

This law is just there for greed purpose only. We pay taxes for roads and tolls. We pay taxes and sales taxes for ems, fire , services. Then you are fine and charges fees for traffic tickets and inspection states etc. Greed continue on with this expense law,
which overburden the working class
and people going to school, that have to drive more often. When will this drowing every stop. The 300 or more just to drive to work.

Anonymous said...

Some of my surcharges are more than the original citation cost.

Anonymous said...

Some of these comments are just crap. I went to court and PROVED that I did not violate the law. I was told that I STILL had to pay the surcharge. When I explained the mitigating circumstances for several issues that should compel leniency, I was told that the death of a brother (and business partner), the toxic effects of anti-depressants (which I didn't want to take) and the other things that were going on in my life had no bearing on the court's opinion and that mental health has no bearing on the court's decision...and that I would still have to pay a surcharge for not having my driver's license ON ME...
based upon the judge's assessment of his COUSIN'S issues with using mental health problems as a crutch (that's a quote), I decided to leave Texas forever.

My life was absolutely ruined by what happened in Texas. I was continuously harassed by small town cops who decided that because I did not like Bush, I needed to be reeducated. I cannot believe the crap that I went through and the Texas alleged Driver responsiblity surcharge was just a teensy bit of it.

I was beaten by a cop over the huge crime of my dog getting loose. Interesting though, I had the gate to his pen shut and fastened with wire. Somebody actually unwound the wire and let the dog out. Then I was dragged into court.

The muni courts and these stupid responsibility laws have given these demagogues a license to extort. Those of you who sit here in judgement have no idea what you're talking about.

I am horrified by what happened to me. I MOVED OUT OF THE STATE and I am not coming back. I have a Master's degree and lots of business experience and I was born in Texas. I will never go back. The state has been turned into a virtual prison camp where citizens are used like ATMs by local law and muni judges (among others) to fund an irresponsible growth in police powers in the state.

Texas used to have a law FORBIDDING towns from funding their operations with ticket revenue. They also used to forgive property taxes on the homes of single parents to keep them in their homes. All that compassion and common sense is gone now...all that remains is a horrific twisted version of Perrynomics and Bush baloney.