Between Rocks and Hard Places

Politicians are human, and therefore flawed. However, I’m not sure that any presidential election has forced voters into such uncomfortable corners. Before yesterday, no twentieth-century candidate, according to The Atlantic, has even joked about having his rival assassinated. Enter Donald Trump, who opened the door for Second Amendment purists to draw a bead on Hillary Clinton. In a not-so-unexpected twist of fate, Clinton couldn’t fully express righteous indignation over the threat because she must deal with a scandal of her own: conservative activists have used a Freedom of Information Act request to find potential links between the Clinton Foundation and policies pursued while she was Secretary of State. None of this is good news for voters, of course. It certainly doesn’t instill faith in our system, which, though imperfect, does its best to promote justice, to allow for safe travel, and to educate children.

An example of quirks in the justice system has caught my eye. City Courts and Justice Courts, which are the courts in which misdemeanors are tried, have two revenue sources: property taxes and fines collected. What happens to these courts when laws make it harder to collect fines? That’s what may happen under recent “pay or stay” settlements. In the past, municipal and justice court judges jailed people who had not paid their tickets and fines. Recent litigation described that system as turning county jails into debtors’ prisons. To be sure, it seems unfair to jail people who lack the means to pay a traffic fine. On the other hand, if the court can only get $25 a month from those who refuse to pay their fines in full, a significant revenue source will disappear, and the threat of a fine seems less likely to encourage sound decisions on the road. Will this cause property taxes and insurance rates to rise? Will it result in unsafe streets and highways because people feel less compelled to follow traffic laws? How can we make sure that the laws are applied fairly?

Headlines such as these make rank and file citizens feel caught between rocks and hard places.

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16 Responses to Between Rocks and Hard Places

  1. Shuchi Patel says:

    I believe taxes will defiantly rise because of this. People will break the laws even more. It is not fair that the good have to suffer with the bad, but it is what is. Now there are some people who can not pay fines because of a lack of money. I believe that if people do have the money, they should just pay the fines. One way would be to look at old tax records of people or see if they are employed. If they seem like they are struggling, someone else who has more than enough money (and is fined) should pay the fines.

  2. Erin Owens says:

    Everyone should pay some type of consequence for breaking the law. However, they should not be jailed for simply not paying a speeding ticket. If a person cannot afford to pay the ticket they should be required to complete community service hours.

  3. Samuel Patterson says:

    Municipal governments are centuries behind when it comes to enforcing the laws of the land. They need to take cues from the federal government, specifically the IRS. When a person refuses to pay the ticket the municipality should have the right to garnish the wage of the infractor. This would cause rates to remain stable and ensure the income for the courts. This policy would inadvertently assure the fair treatment of everyone without a debtors prison.

  4. Brent Styles says:

    I do not understand the problem. As long as the $25 per month fine is being paid, the courts still have a source of income and money that would normally be spent on prisoners would be saved. If it is enforced, the monthly fine would still discourage reckless driving, especially for those without much money. As the article said, people without money can repay their debts through community service.

  5. Jagger Riggle says:

    I believe that we should keep the fines instead of sending people to jail. I do not think that you should be forced to pay it all at once if you do not have the income to do so. One way to do this is by changing the way that the fines are charged. Instead of paying the fine all at once, you should be able to pay it off in installment-like payments, but without interest. For example, if we take the $166 ticket that Brianna Ladnier mentions in her comment, we could divide it into 4 payments of $41.50 or 8 payments of$20.75 and have one payment per month. That way, if you qualify for a certain installment plan (calculated by income), you would not have to worry about spending almost all of your money to pay the ticket/fine but you still have to pay for breaking the law.

  6. Kayla Patel says:

    When you make the choice to get in the driver’s seat every time you drive, you know that if break the law then you will sooner or later have to pay the price. Everyone should have to pay their tickets as a direct result of breaking the law, but they should not be jailed for it. If this happens often then there will be no space for the “real” criminals. Also, if they are jailed, which means losing their job or way of income, then how are they expected to pay the tickets. Even after they get out, that will ruin the chance of the getting another job. There should be another consequence of not paying the ticket on time besides jail time.

    • Kamal Bhalla says:

      I agree. Paying the fine when you get caught makes sense while not paying it and you going into jail. Sometimes people have legit reasons why they are not able to, so that does not mean that they should be thrown into jail. If someone is finically unable to pay their fines, then the government should be able to assess that and see what they can offer them to help pay the fine to them.

  7. Briana Johnston says:

    By reducing the consequence or penalty for a crime, it changes the public’s view on that particular crime. So, even though some people may not be able to afford a certain ticket, these same people knew before acting that they were committing a crime, and crime has punishments. If beforehand a person knows that they can’t afford to pay a speeding ticket or a parking fine, then they should be careful to follow the traffic rules. Knowingly breaking a law as straightforward as maintaining a safe speed is like throwing away money. Eventually, the lawbreaker will get caught and will face consequences, so everyone should be prepared to pay a fine, or do jail time, if they choose to break the law.

    • Brianna Ladnier says:

      Believe it or not, this happens all the time. I can link more videos if you wish, but in order to make money, many counties and cities are forcing their officers to file a certain amount of tickets every month or so. If they fail to do so, they are penalized. Many cops also do things such as what the man suggests at 2:30. They will arrest the citizen, and they will be forced to go to court despite them doing nothing wrong!
      (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eqFKovznmw)

      There are also things such as “speed traps”. Luckily, my mother taught me all the speed traps and ticket traps in our area. However, not everyone is so lucky.

      This example isn’t a speed trap, but it is a ticket trap example. The ticket the man is referring to in this video is $166. This money can be all a minimum wage worker makes in 2 days working for 8 hours each day!
      (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr1di2bf1rI)

      It is not a uncommon occurrence that police officers will set up speed traps or ticket traps in order to be valued as a better officer or earn more money. Sometimes, people make mistakes or police find speeding hotspots. It is terrible, but it is what they have to do. Lowering tickets prices or offering better payment techniques is preferable to those who make one mistake or are stuck.

  8. Aurelia Caine says:

    True enough, people have to pay for their wrong-doings. The amount of which they pay and what happens if they decide not to pay can be debated upon though. It is known for humans to make a mistake every now and then. Someone not noticing the speed limit or slightly going above is a common mistake. Why should that someone have to pay nearly $200 for something they most definitely did not mean to do? Also, who is to say what economic background the person has? So hypothetically, you have someone with a low income trying to pay a $200 speeding ticket, while also trying to provide for a family of four. This person now ends up in jail with no one to care for his or her kids, while also losing the small income he or she were receiving because they cannot reporrt to work. When giving out consequences for disobeying the speed limit, I just think there should be more consideration than just how fast they were going.

  9. Devon M says:

    In the sense of receiving a ticket, everyone makes a mistake once in a while. Getting a speeding ticket just happens sometimes when you either don’t pay attention to the speedometer or the speed limit. Even though tickets and fines are the same for everyone, not everyone can afford to miss a day of work, go to court, and pay anywhere from $50 to $200 dollars for speeding. Then to turn around and be put behind bars for not paying? Granted, a person should pay for their fine or ticket regardless, but for the Justice System to use up space and tax dollars for a person who did not pay for a ticket blows my mind. Not only is it hard on the person being jailed (by not being able to go to work and make money), but it has a snowball effect on everyone else around them. It starts with not going to work. When one does not go to work, they do not get paid and cannot pay certain things to pay for bills. Then, the work company has to find someone else to fill in while the employee is gone or find someone else for the job completely. This puts way more work on the employer than it should be. THEN, not only will it be hard on the law enforcement to keep up with the person in jail, but the taxpayers have to pay even more money to maintain the upkeep of the jails and the residents. We can make sure these laws apply fairly to everyone by making some sort of a sliding- pay-type scale, kind of like how schools would do reduced lunch and fee waivers for those with a low income household. Depending on the income into a household, a person would have to pay “x” amount of dollars for whatever fine they get, considering the severity of the situation. If this wouldn’t be a good option, there could be some sort of “layaway” type option… where if one could not pay for the ticket up front, they can pay it off in increments (kind of like the room and board fees are set up at MSMS). Though these options may not be optimal, they are surely better than sticking someone in jail for not paying a speeding ticket.

  10. Vera L. Taire says:

    It seems to me that we have a clear divide between yes, everyone should pay their tickets in an equal manner and no, it costs the system more to try to make them pay. Ultimately, there is no right answer. I do wonder if the socio-economic backgrounds of the other commenters has impacted their answers and willingess to be lenient. It’s interesting to see the divide between the commenters focusing on the people paying the fine and the effect on the system as a whole.
    Ultimately, I think waiving the fines is the right decision. As a previous commentor already stated, look at Toronto’s figures. It costs the system less. But coming from a financially lacking family, I also understand the relief of not having yet another bill. Granted some people are lazy or otherwise immoral and just don’t pay fines. But how do you separate them from the single parent that happened to screw up? That in and of itself would cost the system another fortune.

  11. Maggie Atkinson says:

    The fact the everyone is valued the same has always been an issue. It is seen is school, because all children learn differently, but are taught the same. When it comes to the law, those who can afford a ticket and those who cannot are also valued like children in school. It is unfair how those who cannot afford to pay a ticket are held to the same standards as those who can. But truly, is there a way to tell the difference?

  12. Pal P says:

    Everyone has to pay the same amount of money for a ticket that they have received. If the court decides to reduce the amount of money people have to pay for tickets, then it will have an effect on property taxes and insurance’s. Some way or another the property taxes and insurance’s rates will have an rise. Also, if you reduce the money for the tickets then people will drive more recklessly because they are not afraid of paying money for the tickets. However, you can keep the traffic laws strict by placing another law. They can place a law in which if you drive recklessly then your drivers license will be taken.

  13. Jackson Sparkman says:

    Do you know what doesn’t make sense? Spending more money on people who are already costing the local government money. Why are we jailing (and spending tax payer money) on people that can’t afford to pay a $100 fine.
    This escalates when bounty hunters are legal.
    Everyone could profit if the people that couldn’t pay their fines, or bail did community service. Roads would be cleaner, schools would look better. This also could be solved by making laws to protect against unreasonable bonds and fines.
    John Oliver did a beautiful segment on this. I suggest everyone watch it.

  14. Brianna Ladnier says:

    It can really loop around and to wealth distribution. In basic economics, we are told that most economists agree on the basis that the government should assist to promote a more linear distribution of wealth (If you want a better perspective on the terrible wealth distribution, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=374&v=QPKKQnijnsM). Whenever you create a way to lessen the financial stress on the poor, it will create a better overall economic situation. The resolution proposed here seems to be a reasonable reaction. However, income will come in smaller increments, but the full amount will still be paid if the community service route is not taken. Therefore, it will assist those in terrible financial situations, and it will overall assist the economy, right? However, this appears to promote the loss of funds since you are loosing potential money from those tickets.

    However, Toronto FULLY dismissed close to a million parking tickets in 2014, and Toronto’s Director of Strategic Communications stated that the tickets, according to the city news release, totaled “an estimated $20 million in potential fine revenue,” but the cost for the city of proceeding with trials could have topped $23 million. How does this apply to us? In most cases, if you do not pay your fine, you can be taken to court. Remember that people who can not afford to pay for parking tickets probably cannot afford for an lawyer and may request that one be appointed to them to fight the ticket. This costs quite the bit of money, and it could lead to more being spent in the case than what the defendant would even have to pay!

    Overall, to answer the questions stated:

    Will this cause property taxes and insurance rates to rise?
    As stated before, this change should not affect the rise of takes or insurance rates. However, I am not blind to unforeseen factors jumping into play, such as abuse of the law. It is possible, but unlikely if you look at pass cases similar to the resolution proposed in this particular situation.

    Will it result in unsafe streets and highways because people feel less compelled to follow traffic laws?
    Traffic laws are there for good reason, to prevent accidents. In fact, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded “Virtually all (97 percent) of drivers feel that when other drivers run red lights it is a major threat to themselves and their family” while conducting a study on traffic violations. If virtually all people feel uncomfortable at such a common traffic violation, why would they begin doing it just because the fine was lessened slightly? To be completely fair, the fine wasn’t lessened as much given a financial payment plan. It should not affect drivers significantly.

    How can we make sure that the law are applied fairly?
    Well, of course, it would have to be available for those who truly need it. It can be given a system similar to that of receiving free lunches at public schools or financial aid for the college you hope to attend.

    Overall, it should not put anyone in lesser of the state they currently reside, and it can in fact improve the financial situation and quality of life for those who are truly in need.

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