Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A flaw in Travis County's plan to ↓ DWLI

Chris Harris of Grassroots Leadership reported yesterday on Twitter that Travis County will institute a new program to reduce arrests for driving with an invalid license. Here's what he says that will mean for drivers with revoked licenses:
  • If cited (not arrested) by police, you will be charged with a Class C instead of B 
  • If you plead guilty and get your license and insurance renewed w/in 6 months the charge is dismissed
Earlier this summer, the Austin Statesman reported that, "The number of Class B misdemeanors filed last year in Travis County — 3,425 — was three times higher than the combined total in Bexar, Dallas and Tarrant counties and exceeded the number of filings in the more populous Harris County, according to data produced by the Office of Court Administration."

That article blamed Austin PD for filing the higher charge, but prosecutors have complete discretion over what charges to bring in these cases: Those were decisions by the County Attorney's office. Now that they've made a different one, clearly they expect APD to just comply.

Which brings us to the key problem: even now it's unclear to your correspondent that County Attorney David Escamilla has proposed a workable plan. Most people with suspended licenses in Texas had them revoked for nonpayment of driver-responsibility surcharges. So, how may we expect them to get their license renewed within six months?

Can't pay means can't pay; one can't squeeze blood from a stone.

This will be better. Charging people with Class Cs instead of Class Bs limits the bad outcomes. But it will still result in punishing people for being too poor to pay their Driver Responsibility surcharges, and in the end, punishment won't fix that problem.


Anonymous said...

The law seems pretty clear on when it's a class B or C, I'm not sure the DA or police should be able to manipulate charges. The probably can and do, but it shouldn't happen.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Welcome to the concept of prosecutorial discretion, 4:11. The phrase, "in the interest of justice" comes to mind.

I agree the Lege should just decriminalize DWLI, but in the meantime, prosecutors must deal with the pragmatic realities of overcriminalization and adjust their practices accordingly.

Anonymous said...

It took me 10 years to get my license back after getting buried in fines and surcharges. I was newly poor after a lengthy bout with cancer. It started with tickets for expired stickers, expired insurance card. Then a speeding ticket in a speed trap town 200 miles away and no proof of insurance. I moved w/o changing my DL address and didn't know my license was suspended and was taken to jail, car impounded, etc. I took care of my expired stickers, found my new insurance card, and attended court to have the tickets dismissed. I got there early and overheard the clerk's talking about me or my file, which was set aside because I was to be taken into custody for a failure to appear warrant in Smith county. No way in hell was I going back to bexar cty jail to be stripped searched by those women who loved their jobs. I admit, it was the stupidest thing I've ever done. Things went downhill from there, and before I knew it, I owed thousands. I wrote letters to judges, congressmen and senators, begging for help. Promising to pay in full, if they would give me license now, so I could get a decent job. My suspended license expired, and things got worse without a valid ID. One of my elected officials did suggest getting an ID card; really? Dps doesn't arrest people w/outstanding warrants in the ID line? The fact was clear, Texas didn't care to help me. They knew I personally couldn't pay but still demanded I pay. I was finally able to borrow from a friend, although my fines we're greatly reduced when a friend's attorney grandson got involved. I never drove w/o insurance; but was guilty of driving w/o proof of it. I admit the tickets were my fault. I screwed up, made mistakes and I knew it was stupid to miss my court dates. But I don't believe punishing me over and over was fair. Demanding money I didn't have and couldn't get myself. Many educated elected people are aware if the hardships these excessive fines and surcharges cause, but probably figure that people with ruined lives without a DL, don't vote. I hope they all go to hell.