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Should States Charge Low-Income Residents Less for Traffic Tickets? (CA)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Should States Charge Low-Income Residents Less for Traffic Tickets?

California’s steep penalties help generate funding for government programs. But they’ve come with an additional cost.

"Losing the right to drive in December upended Latrice Harry’s life. She’d been pulled over by police six months before, and after failing to pay an initial ticket—she says she got it for not being able to quickly find proof of insurance among her belongings—the debt kept accumulating. By her telling, a series of errors in the local court—being told she couldn’t protest the ticket immediately, delays in its processing, all notices being sent to a very old address—added up to a $1,400 penalty and the suspension of her license.

Without it, she lost her job. Harry, a 55-year-old black woman from Vallejo, California, worked for $1,900 a month as an in-home care provider for three elderly clients, whom she drove to doctor’s appointments and on errands. The loss of reliable transportation also limited her contact with her children, including a son still recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle accident and living some 45 minutes away. “I started having anxiety, depression,” Harry said. “I didn’t know what way to turn.”

The threat of driver’s-license suspension to compel violators to pay traffic fines has long been viewed as an essential tool. Harry’s home of California is one of 29 states to use it, according to Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. But the size of the fines levied has ballooned in recent decades, as lawmakers came to use them as a regular source of revenue for government programs..."

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