Costs and Consequences of Traffic Fines and Fees: A Case Study of Open Warrants in Las Vegas, Nevada


83.3 percent of open bench warrants were due to traffic charges.

Nevada courts issue bench warrants for failure to pay fines or fees. Bench warrants allow police to take a person into custody and bring them before a judge. This report explores Nevada’s increased imposition of traffic fines and fees by examining the distribution of outstanding bench warrants. The report shows Nevada’s perverse use of its traffic fine and fee system to generate revenue for local governments and concludes that their system hinders people’s ability to pay traffic tickets and then criminalizes them for their inability to pay. In addition, low-income and Black people are disproportionately punished under this system. 

You can read the full text here.  

Key Findings:

  • Federal budget cuts in 1982 led to the Nevada Legislature authorizing a $10 Administrative Assessment (AA) on all misdemeanors; five years later, the AA was raised to $100 to fund technology upgrades and expansion projects.
  • The most common traffic violations that trigger bench warrants were administrative violations such as the inability to pay for insurance, driver’s licenses, or vehicle registration.
  • Black people represent 44.7 percent of open warrants, although making up only 13.1 percent of Clark County’s population.
  • 58.5 percent of defendants with open warrants are in households with a median income of $49,000 or less, whereas those in households making $100,000 or more make up three percent of open warrants; the city of Las Vegas has a median income of $56,000.
Foster Kamanga, Virginia Smercina, Barbara G. Brents, Daniel Okamura, and Vincent Fuentes
Journal of Social Sciences