By: Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace
The other two branches of Arizona’s government made some significant policy decisions this last year, especially in the area of traffic tickets. The changes were so significant that many of them had a delayed effective date, meaning that they become the law of the land on January 1, 2019.
The biggest change involves the adoption of House Bill 2169. It passed the House and the Senate without anyone voting against it. It changed the law to read that a person, who drives while their privilege to drive is suspended for failing to pay their civil traffic fines, “is responsible for a civil traffic violation.”
Currently, doing so is a Class One Misdemeanor. Since it will no longer be a crime, missing a court date for that offense will no longer trigger an arrest warrant. There are also significant changes in how traffic financial sanctions can be reduced.
By way of background, a common way of raising revenue, without calling it a tax increase, is to add surcharges, fees, and assessments to court penalties. For example, a judge will have the option of being able either to reduce, or to convert to community service, civil and criminal misdemeanor fines
Some financial obligations, like restitution payments to victims, cannot be reduced. Another example is that the 10 percent of the financial sanction allocated to the Clean Elections Commission cannot be mitigated.
The public policy arguments behind these changes are that courts were criminalizing poverty. Now an unpaid civil traffic violation won’t result in a criminal charge if that person is caught driving while their license is suspended. Their car will now be less likely to be impounded, and they are more likely to be able to get to work. Therefore, more likely to keep their job.
Fines, fees and assessments can be fairly complex. Contrary to popular belief, courts don’t get to keep the money. The money goes to a variety of sources including juvenile corrections, law enforcement training, county jails, crime laboratories, drug treatment services, emergency medical services, domestic violence shelters and the treatment of spine and head injuries.
My hope for your Christmas and New Year is that you don’t have to apply for a payment plan at any court and that your holiday season is courtroom free.
Judge Gerald Williams is the Justice of the Peace for the North Valley Justice Court. His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.