Sunday, March 05, 2017

Jailed for Debt: The (Last?) Great Texas Warrant Roundup

If Rep. James White's HB 1125 - which forbids municipal courts and Justices of the Peace from issuing arrest warrants for fine-only offenses - were to become law, this annual foolishness would end:

Jailing defendants for Class C misdemeanor fines is about revenue generation, not public safety. E.g., here's a recent story of a woman facing jail time for unpaid library fines in Victoria County. As Harris County DA Kim Ogg said this week in another context, "It makes no sense to spend public funds to house misdemeanor offenders in a high-security penal facility when the crimes themselves may not merit jail time. ... These secure beds and expensive resources should be prioritized for the truly dangerous offenders and 'flight risks' who need to be separated from the community."

See a primer on debtors prison practices from the Marshall Project.


Anonymous said...

I practice law here in Texas (not that it matters much to this story), and a good friend of mine is a deputy in a county on the other side of the State from where I live. He texted me to say my name came up on a warrant list. I told him there's no way, I haven't been to his county for at least 25 years. He said he would look into it, agreeing that the last time I visited him there was a quarter of a century of year.

A few days later he called to say it must stem from a traffic citation I received (yet do not ever recall getting) in 1995. The total is $584.00.

I don't ever remember getting a ticket, perhaps I did and just don't remember. I have practice law for years, been admitted in state courts and federal courts and visited numerous jails and prisons all without any warning I'm on some "warrant" list. Apparently it was never reported to TCIC. I have no choice but to pay the $584 or just keep trucking along in hopes that one day I'm pulled over or at a jail my name isn't ran and a warrant appears and I'm jailed and held for transfer to a county 6 hours from where I live.

I understand this isn't exactly the poverty/indigence issue you are writing on, but it does underscore the real issue. These municipalities view citations as nothing more than an income source. If you don't pay they take it personally as if you are trying to bankrupt their existence. They have for so long believed the only way to fund their existence is to go after each and every citation as if their personal lives are a stake. It's absurd.

Lee said...

Anon 1224 -

You are correct about the scheme being revenue generation though something is amiss that I have always wondered. Not all jurisdictions see the same information when they run you on a search for warrants, criminal history or traffic records. I remember getting a ticket in 2006 in the City of West University (I am still unsure why there is a city of west university) that I did defensive driving for but never paid the court costs. It turned into a warrant shortly thereafter and I moved a few times. In 2011 when I was pulled over by a Harris County Sherriff the warrant did not show up but somehow the City of Houston was able to see it in 2015. Astonishing. One jurisdiction will tell you that everything is clear and another will not.

Another point in your case is to wonder why counties and states even bother to extradite for misdemeanors and what happens to those warrants. If I have visited for example Los Angeles and received a ticket for some misdemeanor and I live in Houston, Why should I care for a court system or laws of a place that I do not live and am unlikely to go to again considering the cost of Harris County extraditing me would not be realistic given the charge.

Grits, do you know how this works?

Anonymous said...

Do what child support dodgers do in border towns----get a new name on your license in Mexico and the police computers can't track you. The young guys in my area have adapted to gringo police state big brother technology.

jimbino said...

which forbids municipal courts and Justices of the Peace from issuing arrest warrants

in English, would read

which forbids municipal courts and Justices of the Peace to issue arrest warrants.

There is no such thing as "forbid from...." Try instead "prohibit from" or "bar from."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jimbino, leave the grammar policing to someone who knows grammar.

Example 1.1 in the Oxford Dictionary:

1.1 Order (someone) not to do something.
‘I was forbidden from seeing him again’

Anonymous said...

Lee, go look up the "Non-Resident Violator Compact" for details of how getting a ticket in another state can impact you here in Texas. They won't extradite you but when you find your license is suspended and other problems arise, the cost will likely have tripled to take care of the original problem along with Texas making your life a living hell. Even those states that don't participate have ways of driving you up a wall so it pays to avoid such matters if at all possible.

Anonymous said...

No jurisdiction extradites for traffic tickets. What they will do is try to suspend your license through the Interstate Compact.