Traffic courts throughout California trap people in poverty with exorbitant fines and harsh policies that can make it very challenging for low-income people to resolve minor infractions — a problem I explored in-depth in a recent feature story, "The High Cost of Driving While Poor." In the wake of increased media scrutiny tied to a damning report on traffic fines — co-authored by the East Bay Community Law Center and other California legal aid groups — state officials have proposed a number of solutions aimed at tackling some of the inequities of this legal system.
Last week, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced that she is pushing for an "emergency action" that would help address one of the central concerns of critics — that the court system is often inaccessible to people who can't pay expensive fines upfront. Cantil-Sakauye's efforts come as Governor Jerry Brown, in his latest budget proposal, has continued his push for a so-called "amnesty program" that would reduce the amount of outstanding traffic court debts for some defendants.
These new efforts reflect an increasing acknowledgment throughout state government that the current system of traffic fines is often unfairly harsh and disproportionately impacts low-income residents and people of color. As I outlined in my feature story, California over the years has increasingly relied on court fines and fees to raise revenues for courthouses and other government agencies, such that a relatively minor traffic offense that once cost $100 now costs roughly $500. And when people fail to pay the fees on time or miss a deadline to appear in court for a traffic infraction, judges typically issue "civil assessments" which carry additional $300 fines and result in the defendant having his or her driver's license suspended.
Read the whole story at East Bay Express