More than 95% of all arrest warrants issued in Texas in 2016 were either for failure to appear or failure to pay in fine-only misdemeanor cases.
This joint report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project evaluates how often fine-only offenses – offenses punishable only by a fine and no jail sentence – subject Texans to jail time and suspensions of driver’s licenses or the inability to renew a license or register a vehicle because of their inability to pay. The authors address how tickets for traffic, non-traffic, and city ordinance violations can quickly lead to a vicious cycle of debt, arrest warrants, imprisonment, and other collateral consequences—even though federal and state law should protect citizens from being jailed simply because they are too poor to pay. This report also offers recommendations to counteract negative impacts of the current enforcement system on court actors, city government officials, and Texans who are fined.
You can read the full report here.
- In 2007, the San Antonio Municipal Court stopped sending people to jail to pay off their fines. Four years later, the court’s “revenue was up 74%,” and judges were more likely to resolve cases with alternatives to fines and fees.
- More than 95% of all arrest warrants issued in Texas in 2016 were either for failure to appear or failure to pay in fine-only misdemeanor cases.
- Court and city government officials in Texas confessed that they felt pressured to raise funds by assessing and collecting fines and fees, and the report notes that one official even resigned because of the pressure.
- End the use of jail for fine-only offenses.
- At sentencing, require judges to determine the defendant’s ability to pay and consider alternatives to full payment.
- Expand the ability of courts to resolve fines and costs through community service.
- Expand the use of waivers and ticket reductions.
- Reduce reliance on arrest warrants.
- Eliminate unfair fees (e.g. time payment fee, failure to appear/pay fee, scofflaw fee, warrant fee).
- Reduce the number of unlicensed drivers (by eliminating the Driver Responsibility Program and removing or not placing people who are unable to pay in the Scofflaw Program or Failure to Appear/Pay Program).
- Limit the use of private collection agencies.
Texas SB 1913, passed in the summer of 2017, implemented many of the recommendations included in this report.