Saturday, March 30, 2019

Class C misdemeanor arrests and incarceration in Texas, by the numbers

Beginning with the consideration of HB 482 (Thompson) in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, the Texas Legislature will spend quite a bit of time over the coming weeks considering the consequences of arrest and incarceration for Class C misdemeanors, which in Texas are minor offenses carrying a maximum punishment of a $500 fine and no jail time.

There are two ways people end up incarcerated over Class C misdemeanors. First, after the US Supreme Court okayed the practice in Atwater v. Lago Vista (2001), police may arrest drivers for minor traffic offenses or violations of municipal ordinances, even if the maximum punishment is only a fine. That's what happened to Sandra Bland. Though she was eventually charged with resisting, when the officer first placed her under arrest, it was for the underlying charge of failure to signal a lane change.

Alternatively, if drivers can't pay fines and fees and don't show up for court, a warrant or "capias pro fine" may be issued for their arrest. Millions of such arrest warrants are outstanding at any given time, and hundreds of thousands go to jail each year because they can't afford Class C fines.

For purposes of one-stop shopping, Grits thought it worthwhile to reiterate some of the basic data surrounding arrests and jail for fine-only offenses in Texas all in one post. For fun, let's roll them out Harper's-Index style:

Rate of arrest for Class C misdemeanors at traffic stops in 2018 by the Texas Department of Public Safety: 18.4 per 10,000 stops.*

Rate of arrest for Class C misdemeanors at traffic stops in 2018 by Waco PD: 451.4 per 10,000 stops.*

Proportion of jail admissions in Harris County in a four-month 2016 study for which a Class C misdemeanor was the highest charge: 11%.

Proportion of traffic stops at which Texas DPS troopers used force against a driver in 2018: 17.02 per 10,000 stops.*

Proportion of traffic stops at which Austin police officers used force against a driver in 2018: 77.2 per 10,000 stops.*

Number of Texans in 2018 who sat out their Class C fines and fees in jail because they couldn't afford to pay: 524,628.**

New arrest warrants and/or capias-pro fines issued by JPs and Municipal Judges in Texas in 2018 for Class C misdemeanors: 2,141,656.**

Number of Texans for whom judges waived Class-C fines for indigence in 2018: 54,794.**

Percentage of Texans who, according to an Office of Court Administration poll, disapprove of jailing people over fines and fees when defendants cannot afford to pay: 66%.

Percentage of Texans who believe "the wealthy enjoy substantially better outcomes in the criminal justice than poor and working-class people": 81%.

Percentage of Americans the Federal Reserve says cannot pay a surprise $400 bill without selling something or going into debt: 40%.

Percentage of Americans the Federal Reserve says cannot pay their current month's bills: 20%.

* Source: Compiled from agency racial profiling reports from March 1, 2019. See more background here.
** Office of Court Administration Judicial Statistics data query.


    Anonymous said...

    Under what authority does the DPS have to refuse an ID Card for an American National with all needed documentation? Please comment.

    BarkGrowlBite said...

    The poor get fucked while the rich pay to avoid jail and bribe their kids’ way into college.

    Gritsforbreakfast said...

    They have authority to revoke licenses under several sections of the state law, fwiw 12:17. The Lege gave it to them.

    jD said...

    His question was about the DPS's authority to refuse to issue a personal identification certificate, not about their authority to revoke a driver's license.

    Gritsforbreakfast said...

    Idk on IDs.