Court Fines and Fees

Reports – NEW!

BOTRCA - StoppedFinedArrested - cover - 11iv06 (2)LSPC, as a member of the Back on the Road California coalition, is proud to announce the release of Stopped, Fined, Arrested – Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California, a new report that reveals a disturbing reality: our state has dramatic racial disparities in driver’s license suspensions and arrests related to unpaid traffic fines and fees, effectively creating modern debtor’s prisons.

The report confirms what communities and advocates have been saying for years: people of color and poor people are disproportionately affected by police stops, driver’s license suspensions, and related arrests. In San Francisco, for example, Black residents are nearly 8½ times as likely to be arrested for failure to appear/pay as white residents. Comprehensive changes are needed to California’s court system and policing policies to end these unfair policies and practices. Share the report on social media with #StoppedFinesArrested!

Robert_Richmond meme for fines and feesStopped, Fined, Arrested is a follow-up report, expanding on the shocking findings of Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, which showed that the injustices in California’s traffic courts rival those described in the Department of Justice’s 2015 report on Ferguson, Missouri.

Not Just a Ferguson Problem documented the exorbitant fines and fees California traffic courts attempt to extract from people who miss their court dates or payments. When the report was published in April 2015, more than 4 million Californians had suspended driver’s licenses for failure to pay court fines in full or to appear in court. The combined effect of these license suspensions and excessive fines has been disastrous for people already struggling to make ends meet.

Legislation

No License suspensionLSPC has taken the fight to reform California’s system of fines and fees to the state legislature. In 2015, a statewide Traffic Court Amnesty Program was passed through the Governor’s budget and SB 405, a bill co-sponsored by LSPC. The Amnesty Program allows certain individuals with outstanding Traffic Court debt to reduce the amounts they owe, enter into payment plans, and have their licenses restored. However, while the Amnesty Program has helped people in some counties get their licenses back, it remains an imperfect – and temporary – solution to a system that continues to punish people for their poverty.

That’s why LSPC and its partners are co-sponsoring a new bill in 2016 – SB 881. This bill would end the policy of suspending licenses due to failures to appear or pay in traffic court. To support SB 881, please send a support letter to Senator Hertberg’s office today! You can find a template support letter here and the fact sheet here. To join us in Sacramento for legislative committee hearings on SB 881, contact staff attorney Brittany Stonesifer at brittany@prisonerswithchildren.org.

Debt Free SF

Donna_Oakland meme for fines and feesAs part of the Debt Free SF Coalition, LSPC is working with several other San Francisco organizations and advocates to help break the cycle of poverty created by the city’s system of court-ordered debt. Working in collaboration with local lawmakers to reform San Francisco’s policies and practices, Debt Free SF members joined many victims of unfair license suspensions on February 25th at a hearing in front of the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Neighborhood Services committee. Check out the Debt Free SF video, capturing the stories of San Franciscans, explaining in their own words how court debt has affected them. Follow us on facebook to find out how you can get involved!

Litigation

On June 15, 2016, LSPC, in conjunction with ACLU of Northern California, Bay Area Legal Aid, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and other organizations, filed a lawsuit against Solano County Superior Court, challenging the court’s practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who are too poor to pay exorbitant traffic fines. In 2015, over 11,000 driver’s licenses were suspended in Solano County for failure to pay alone. This is the first lawsuit in California to challenge the suspension of driver’s licenses as a means of collecting unpaid traffic fines. The full complaint can be read here.