Government Is A Bully Stealing Your Lunch Money
Via Consumerist's Chris Morran, a judge in Atlanta has collected more than $1 million in traffic fines by knocking traffic offenses down to warnings, discounting the penalties and collecting the lesser amount as "court costs"...which is illegal and keeps bad drivers on the road:
For a good chunk of 2012, Atlanta's WSBTV has been looking into the behavior of one area judge, who was recorded in open court saying, "It's my policy to always reduce these to warnings and let you pay the fine as court costs... so it will not go on your record."
The WSBTV reporter found that one-in-five tickets in just this particular city had been reduced to warnings, amounting to more than $1 million in fines that had been collected as court costs.
But the Chief Judge of neighboring DeKalb County's traffic court tells the reporter that "You don't charge for a warning... A warning is almost an adjudication of not guilty. It means that the case is not going forward against you. If you can't be punished, you can't be fined."
Adds the judge, "There is absolutely no legal basis for keeping that money."
Essentially, if the court collects fines -- even if you're calling them court costs -- it is saying the driver is liable. And yet, by labeling the money something other than a fine, the drivers' records are not impacted.
This may be acceptable for the occasional person who deserves a warning for going a few extra miles per hour over the speed limit, but keeping the state from knowing about offenses prevents law enforcement from identifying repeat offenders.
"I would say it's dangerous to the community," says the District Attorney for Clayton County, where the warning-happy judge works. "Nothing is written down on the record."
"You cannot fine people if they are not convicted of the offense," she adds.
From the WSBTV piece by investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer:
Daniel Brackett said he thought he was getting a good deal when he fought a speeding ticket.
"She made it clear that if I accepted the warning, they were doing me a favor and giving me a $100 discount on my fine," said Brackett.
But after Brackett left, he began thinking twice about the "warning" that cost him $700.
"They change everything to warnings, collect all this cash and go on about their merry way," said Brackett.
From commenter Captain Obvious on Consumerist:
I got a ticket in Atlanta.
The fine was about $225, or you could get it nol prossed by paying $350. THe line to pay the extra was hours long and the line to go to court...did not exist. Its a giant scam that has been going on in Atlanta for 10 years or longer.
Commenter lunasdude on Consumerist writes:
yeah they do this crap here in NM as well, I got busted for passing (in a passing zone) unsafely which the cop never explained what that was and I was given a court date because he tacked on the unsafe part which made the ticket like a careless driving charge!
I went, the judge knocked it down to a "taking under advisement" and I payed court cost of $240 and the ticket would not go on my record.
I got home and looked it up the fine and it would have been around $100 and 3 points on my licence, probably higher insurance rates, yada, yada.
Uniformed tax collectors!
And finally, Chrisnif writes at Consumerist:
In Meck county NC the fine for speeding 1-9 mph over is $5. Court costs will set you back $188.