Sunday, March 10, 2013

Municipal court issues: Surcharge waivers, scofflaw programs and bills of cost

The March 2013 issue (pdf) of The Recorder, which is the newsletter of the Texas Municipal Court Education Center, contains three items (at least ) that may interest Grits readers.

A story on page one deals with the failure of Harris and many other counties to issue a "bill of costs" accompanying criminal court judgments. (See this Grits post, which was referenced in the article, along with this followup and an explanatory document published soon thereafter by the Office of Court Administration.) Many counties, apparently, have either not been issuing bills of cost or have not been doing them properly. This is a sleeper issue that Grits still suspects may balloon before too long into a Very Big Deal.

Another front-page article deals with "scofflaw" programs wherein cities seek to collect traffic fines by flagging them for the county to prevent the driver's next vehicle registration. The programs have been largely unsuccessful and counties have frequently balked, declining to endure the reduced revenue, longer lines and angrier customers for a policy that only benefits municipalities. This issue came to a head in Houston over red light camera tickets.

Then on p. 14 of the newsletter is a feature on "Court ordered waiver of surcharges for indigent defensants," detailing precisely what judges need to do to waive Driver Responsibility Surcharges under a statute passed in 2009, including a model order for judges to use. (Confusingly, but importantly, there is also an administrative indigence program at DPS through which surcharges may be reduced, but not entirely waived.) If you're a Texas judge or defense attorney who deals with surcharges, IMO it'd border on legal malpractice not to familiarize yourself with the program and to help indigent defendants avail themselves of it.

Grits won't besmirch this beautiful afternoon by spending time summarizing each of these items but anyone interested in those particular topics will want to read the related articles.


Anonymous said...

Scott, thank you for the work you do. Has there been an update on the effort Daniel M was doing approximately a year ago to have the surcharges declared unconstitutional? Is this effort still underway and is there a way for interested people to contribute to this effort? Thank you, JGraham. Also, would like to write you offline about another question if you would share your email address. Thank you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No word on the suit - IANAL. My email's at the bottom of the sidebar.

Anonymous said...

I had several traffic citations . two for no insurance and several no reg. and expired inspection..never had a DWI .. I paid off all the ticket fees-thousands worth.but the surcharges piled up and now its several hundred dollars a month just to keep my license..i got pulled over and got more tickets and a ticket for DWLS .. is there anybody I should or can contact than can help me apply for the indigent program. i am a full time student , and I live with my disabled mother. I dont have any income .I need transportation to find work ..