California Has a System That Punishes the Poor Through Traffic Violations—Civil Rights Groups Are Starting to Change That

Lambert here: This is a very important post. It shows that law enforcement for profit doesn’t only happen in flyover country — as in St Louis suburb Ferguson, Missouri — but in the famously blue state of California, dominated by liberal Democrats. It’s almost like we’re looking at an ideology shared by all elites.

By Adam Hudson, a journalist, writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Truthout, AlterNet, teleSUR English, the Nation and other publications. Originally published at Alternet.

Throughout the United States, cities impose heavy traffic fines to generate revenue. But these expensive fines mostly hurt lower-income people and people of color and often lead to suspended driver’s licenses. As a result, people get trapped in a debtors’ prison as these exorbitant fines pile up.

A recent lawsuit in California’s Solano County Superior Court successfully challenged the state’s policy of holding traffic violators to unreasonable fines, regardless of their ability to pay. Civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) were part of the suit against the court. The settlement provides a template for challenging exorbitant traffic fines and byzantine fee structures that trap people in poverty.

Under the settlement’s terms, Solano County Superior Court will notify traffic defendants of their right to be heard regarding their “ability to pay,” and it will “update all notifications to traffic defendants, including its website, the oral advisements provided by traffic court judges, and the ‘notice of rights’ handout given to all traffic defendants,” according to a Bay Area Legal Aid press release. The updated notices inform defendants of their rights to ask the Court for a lower fine, a payment plan, or community service if they cannot afford the traffic fine. For homeless, low-income, or public-benefit-receiving traffic defendants, the Court agreed to consider alternative penalties that do not involve paying monetary fines, such as community service.

Traffic defendants do, in fact, have a right to argue “ability to pay” when contesting fines in court. But typically, courts do not inform defendants that they actually have this right. This settlement upholds that right by ensuring Solano County Superior Court inform defendants of their right to argue “ability to pay” and consider alternative penalties.

ACLU attorney Micaela Davis argues that suspending someone’s driver’s license is unconstitutional. She told AlterNet, “Without giving someone notice and opportunity to be heard on their ability to pay and then by applying the sanction of the license suspension, you’re essentially punishing someone, via that license suspension, without providing due process”—thus violating the U.S. Constitution.

Solano County lies in the northern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. It includes cities like Fairfield (the county seat) and Vallejo. To Solano County’s east is Sacramento County, which houses California’s capital of Sacramento (also the county seat).

The California state government also passed legislation regarding the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic fines. In late June, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid traffic fines.

Suspending someone’s driver’s license deprives them of a means of transportation. This makes it difficult to run necessary errands, go to work, or even find work since some jobs require a driver’s license. Many working-class and lower-income Californians live in areas where public transportation is almost nonexistent. In these areas, not having access to a car makes it nearly impossible to get around. So for many people, unless they live in a metropolitan area with ample public transportation, having a driver’s license is a necessity. Gov. Brown’s bill alleviates some of this stress.

While the bill is certainly a step in the right direction, it does not fix the problem that the fines remain way too high for some to afford. As Davis explained to AlterNet, “Even though that ultimate sanction [suspended driver’s license for unpaid traffic fines] is gone, the fact of the matter is the fees that are assessed on people are still way too high. Even if someone is not having their license suspended, we’re still seeing huge problems with people saddled with these court debts that they can’t pay off.”

Under California law, failing to appear in court, failing to pay an infraction ticket (even if the defendant cannot afford the fine), or driving with a suspended license is a misdemeanor. Police can “arrest, book, and jail people for traffic court warrants or the criminal misdemeanor offense of driving with a suspended license,” according to a 2016 LCCR report. Punishment can mean six months in jail, years of probation, and several expensive fees.

Out of all the U.S. states, California arguably has the most expensive and byzantine traffic fines and fee structures. Base fines for common infractions, like traffic violations, in California are typically similar to other states. However, additional fees are piled onto the base fine, which increases the actual fine cost to exorbitant amounts. Such fees include state penalty assessment, court operations assessment, county fund, and several other fees. “California’s court costs and penalty fees are significantly higher than average,” according to another LCCR report published in 2017.

Additionally, if a defendant fails to pay the fine or appear in court or misses a deadline, a $300 civil assessment fee is added to the fine. According to the 2017 LCCR report, “State law makes the imposition of a civil assessment fee permissive (not mandatory), but almost all California courts routinely impose this fee. Additionally, state law allows courts discretion to impose ‘up to’ $300 but all nine Bay Area counties—and almost all California counties—impose the maximum allowable amount of $300 automatically, in all cases.” Civil assessment fees go to the Trial Court Trust Fund, which funds California’s state courts. “Courts receive 100 percent of these fees (other fees are earmarked for other state projects) and use these fees to balance their budgets,” according to LCCR.

As a result, California traffic fines are the highest in the nation. For example, according to the 2017 LCCR report, running a red light in California carries a $490 fine, the highest in the country. While the base fine for a red light violation is $100, additional fees increase it to $490. The second highest is Oregon, where running a red light carries a $260 fine, while for most states, the fee is less than $200—an average fine of $154 in other states. A speeding violation in California carries a $233 fine. The base fine is $35, but additional fees increase it to $233. The average fine for speeding in other states is $115. Running a stop sign in California carries a $238 fine, while the average is $151 in other states. Meanwhile, California’s jaywalking fine is $197 compared to an average of $108 in other states.

These exorbitant fines exist at a time when the middle class has dwindled throughout the country. According to a Social Security Administration report, 50 percent of American wage earners made less than or equal to $29,930.13 in 2015, while 67.4 percent made less than or equal to $46,119.78.

People of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. Police have a high level of discretion when it comes to charging people for minor infractions and where they direct their law enforcement efforts. This discretion “allows for implicit bias of law enforcement officers to influence where they target their enforcement effort,” according to the 2017 LCCR report.

Black and Latino drivers are more likely to be pulled over, arrested, ticketed, and searched by police during traffic stops compared to whites. A recent Stanford study also showed that when pulled over for speeding, black and Latino drivers are 20 and 30 percent, respectively, more likely to be ticketed than whites and twice as likely to be searched. Black and Latino drivers are also searched based on less evidence.

LCCR also points out that “African-American people were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for a common, minor offense, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested in many states.” But this is not related to higher wrongdoing by people of color. According to LCCR, “people of color are more likely to be detained despite not doing anything wrong.”

In several Bay Area countries, black and Latino drivers are disproportionately arrested and jailed for driving with a license that was suspended due to failing to pay an infraction fine. The 2017 LCCR report notes a pattern of systemic racial discrimination in county jail bookings for this failure-to-pay infraction. “[W]hite drivers are approximately half as likely to be booked in County jail for driving after failing to pay a traffic violation, relative to the county census population average, whereas drivers in the Hispanic or Other racial categories are roughly four times as likely, and African-American drivers are as much as 16 times more likely, depending on the county,” according to the report.

In Alameda County, where Oakland and Berkeley are located, blacks make up over 40 percent of failure-to-pay bookings, even though they are 10 percent of the county’s population, according to LCCR. Latinos make up over 30 percent of failure-to-pay jail bookings but are under 20 percent of the county population. Meanwhile, whites make up over 40 percent of Alameda County’s population but 20 percent of failure-to-pay jail bookings. In Santa Clara County, where many tech companies like Google and Facebook are located, blacks are less than 5 percent of the county’s population, while Latinos are under 20 percent and whites are around 45 percent. However, Latinos make up over 60 percent of failure-to-pay jail bookings and blacks are 10 percent of those bookings, while whites make up 20 percent. A similar pattern of racial discrimination occurs in failure-to-pay jail bookings for non-traffic violations, such as loitering.

Many cities throughout the country get their revenue from fines—which explains courts’ refusal to inform defendants of their right to argue “ability to pay.” But those fines usually come from black residents. A Priceonomics study of cities’ revenue from fines found that cities that relied heavily on fines had larger black populations. “We found one demographic that was most characteristic of cities that levy large amounts of fines on their citizens: a large African-American population. Among the fifty cities with the highest proportion of revenues from fines, the median size of the African-American population—on a percentage basis—is more than five times greater than the national median,” writes Dan Kopf of Priceonomics. Meanwhile, income level had very little bearing on cities’ reliance on fines for revenue.

African Americans make up 3.8 percent of the median city population in the United States, according to Priceonomics. However, for the top 50 cities in terms of proportion of revenue from fines, blacks make up 18.9 percent of the population. A similar pattern occurs when looking at averages rather than median. Cities that receive 10 percent or more of their revenue from fines and forfeitures have an average black population of 25.9 percent compared to an 8.7 percent black population for cities that only get 0 to 1 percent of their revenue from fines.

Priceonomics said the connection between “fines and largely African American populations” is unlikely from black people committing more offenses. Plus, according to the 2016 LCCR report, there is “no documented difference in driving behavior” between whites and nonwhites. Furthermore, there is no evidential difference in driving behavior based on race. Blacks and Latinos are no more dangerous behind the wheel than white people. “A more likely explanation,” according to Priceonomics, is that blacks “are more highly policed and that, as has been acknowledged by the Director of the FBI, African Americans suffer from heavier legal penalties due to the implicit bias of police officers.”

Courts throughout California and the country use fines as a source of revenue. These expensive and byzantine fee structures largely hurt lower-income people and people of color. In fact, cities that rely more on fines as a source of revenue have larger black populations. Courts typically do not inform traffic defendants of their right to argue “ability to pay” when contesting these fines. The Solano County Superior Court settlement serves as a model to challenge this system. However, it only applies to Solano County. And it remains to be seen whether the court will follow through. So the fight to challenge exorbitant traffic fines and the modern-day debtors’ prison will continue.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Felix_47

    I wonder how good the studies are. I have police officers (CHP) in my family and they confirm what I heard in traffic school more than once and what I have seen in court. (Of course the minorities might not be showing up) and that is that officers favor ticketing white females driving a nice car in the number 3 lane. How many NC readers would stop a beater doing 90 with a missing tail light at 2:30 on the 210 freeway with four minorities inside? An officer with a career and a family does not want the risk.

      1. nonclassical

        …Washington State, rural areas are highly victimized…have been for over a decade-somewhere near time of “privatized prisons” and devolved tax bases….once the poor are caught in system it is very difficult to neutralize. Youth are particularly victimized-laws are changed, defining today speeds in excess of 40 mph can be construed “reckless driving” (street racing)….I have personally helped youth remove themselves from repetitive, circuitous circumstances involved. It isn’t “liberals” who run rural politics….

    1. Anon

      This comment by Felix is palpably offensive. If the term wasn’t so explosive, I’d say racist. Poverty and “minority” status is NOT criminal. Despite your family experience, Felix, law enforcement (CHP) are paid to perform with integrity and sophistication, not personal prejudice. This white fear of the “other” is what allows officers to prematurely use lethal force.

      Enjoy your white privilege.

      1. mle detroit

        @Anon: What is your evidence that “Felix” is white? What privilege is Felix demonstrating in his post? Felix describes a hypothetical in which a not-racially-identified officer might engage in racial, gender and economic profiling to increase his or her own safety and his or her employer’s revenue stream.
        Disclosure: I’m one of those white females driving an old-but-nice car who appears in court to contest a fine, since the odds are that the ticketing officer will not show up and the ticket will be dismissed.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        > Enjoy your white privilege.

        Did you read the rules? “Criticize ideas, not people.’ Last I checked, there were plenty of non-white policemen, and this commenter might be one of them. And a drive-by that tosses a grenade into the comments section under the Anon handle isn’t something we look on with favor.

        Discussing these topics is hard enough as it is.

        1. Anon


          Although I currently use the avatar Anon, my comment was not drive-by, snark, or otherwise. However, I do apologize for the last sentence as it was unnecessary to the crux of my comment. (If, indeed, Felix_47 is not white I would think a response would be forthcoming, maybe not.)

          How many NC readers would stop a beater doing 90 with a missing tail light at 2:30 on the 210 freeway with four minorities inside? An officer with a career and a family does not want the risk.

          As an NC reader, my response was centered on the fact law enforcement are/should be held to a much higher standard (than the Commentariat) and refraining from duties because of fear of the “other” (minorities) is essentially an example of white priviledge.

          You disagree?

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            > My comment was not…

            Readers don’t perform the moderation function. It’s not up to you to decide. If you’re “Anon” then by definition you’re unknown, and have no discernible previous presence or persona on the site. And then comes the claim of white privilege without ascertaining that the poster is, in fact, white. If that’s not a drive-by, it’s perilously close to it.

            1. Anon


              While you may have no way of recognizing my prior presence in the Commentariat, it is not true. One previous avatar was Bruno Marr, but it changes year to year to confuse the NSA not the NC site administration.

              Readers don’t perform the moderation function. It’s not up to you to decide.

              Again, I apologize for the ending of my Felix comment. I guess I misunderstood the third bullet point in the List.

              Maybe Felix can provide us with a nuanced explanation.

              Best to you.

    2. Lord Koos

      A somewhat racist comment. Someone “driving a beater” does not mean the cop is at risk. In fact I would wager most gangsta types of any race would be driving a pretty nice car not a pile of junk — If you’re a criminal the last thing you want to do is stand out to the cops. When in my 20s I had very little money and drove many old cars, I would get behind on parking tickets and other small infractions and it was costly. Showing up to court in a big city also means money for parking, and can waste half of your day. People working 9-5 have an even harder time making it to court on a weekday. High fines for moving violations such as running a light or a stop sign at least have some justification as a public safety issue, however, stuff like illegal turns, tail light not working, failure to signal, going a couple MPH over the speed limit, etc should not have such high penalties.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > A somewhat racist comment

        I’m fighting through David Roediger’s extremely dense Class, Race, and Marxism. He has this to say in the introduction:

        [This introduction], and the book itself, urges less dismissiveness towards opposing positions. It refuses to imagine that we achieve open debate by embracing positions advocating for the sidelining of the consideration of race or, as in the case of liberal multiculturalism, by neglecting questions of class. However it does urge, in ways involving self-criticism of even some of the reprinted essays included in the volume, a respect for the ways in which those from whom we differ are working to address problems in hard times.

        In the book, Roediger (the author of the influential Wages[1] of Whiteness) goes through multiple, decade-long permathreads on the left about “race”, “racism,” “white supremacy”, and “white privilege” — all of which are contested terms. (Roediger shows that the person who coined the term “white privilege” never did explain why “privilege” was the chosen word[2].) For example, it’s not clear to me, and I’m not making fun of the commenter here, what “somewhat racist” can mean. Is racism a linear scale, so “somewhat racist” is like “somewhat cold”? If it’s not, then what is it? And so forth.

        Having moderated probably hundreds of thousands of comments over elections 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, I think I can say that this cluster of terms (I’ll take “racist” as a proxy for all of them):

        1) Is very often not used in good faith, having been weaponized for use in electoral slash identity politics. The 2008 equivalent of Brock’s bots in 2016 generally accused anybody who didn’t support Obama of being “racist” after a single exchange, and often outright. The equivalent on this thread was throwing down the gauntlet on “white supremacy” with no assurance that the person before whom the gauntlet was thrown was, in fact, white;

        2) Is generally a conversation stopper, and if it’s it’s not, is a fine derailer/distractor;

        3) Is often mere virtue signaling (since we are all caught up in this terrible system);

        4) Is generally not used in any way that encourages critical thinking, which is, after all, the central purpose of this blog.

        I’m not saying that racism (along with sexism (or classism)) are not problems; of course they are; grave and terrible national and personal problems, really on the level of original sin (which is why degrading the discourse weaponizing them for use by bots makes me so crazy).

        I am saying that the rules:

        • Keep it constructive and courteous

        • Criticize ideas, not people

        Mean that any usage of these terms had better be carefully thought out if it’s to add value to the NC comments section or serve the larger purpose of solving or at least ameliorating the problems to which they call attention.


        [1] I think it’s a rent…

        [2] And if you’re both white, unemployed, and in need — say — of dental care, “privilege,” no matter how real in the abstract to the historian, analyst, or organizer, may be a real converstation stopper.

        1. Anon


          Thank you for elucidating the origins/basis of your impatience with this language issue. Normally, I’m hesitant to respond to mildly cogent comments I come across (not yours, of course). This morning (West Coast) I may have gone online way too early and didn’t follow my better mind.

          Thanks, again, for all the great work that you do.

  2. Too Late For Nostalgia

    Being a Californian for my entire adult life, I have mixed feelings about this article.
    First, let’s get something straight: When California is scrutinized, we are compared to perfection, and that is unfair. Compare us to practically any other U.S. state except maybe Oregon and I think we have the best standard of living with the best opportunities for people of all races. I have worked in many companies here and the workforce is incredibly diverse.
    Next: Here’s a secret I am going to reveal: There is no such thing as one California. Same as you can’t compare the people of Upstate NY with the people living in Manhattan and say that they are all alike

    That all being said, I agree that we have the same agenda forced on us as every other state: Total obedience to the billionaires and their thugs.

    Overall an excellent article but please don’t think CA is supposed to be some icon of perfection. We have our faults too, but generally we fix them first.

    How’s that for defending my homeland?

    1. Synoia

      The people in SoCal (LA) and NorCal (Bay Area) behave differently. It’s not a single set of behavior.

      I have no experience of San Diego or the very North Part of CA.

      The curse of California is The Car.It dominates everything.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > we are compared to perfection, and that is unfair.

      I don’t think we’re doing to be seeing an article titled “The Case for Catching Poor People with Speed Traps” any time soon, whether in Salon or The American Conservative. How is urging that people shouldn’t be arrested so the town can fill gaps in its budget a counsel of perfection?

      I take the point that “there’s no one California,” but the state is controlled by a Democrat machine. That machine need to do better.

      If, as you say, “We have our faults too, but generally we fix them first,” then I would expect to see movement on this issue. Are there any signs of it?

      1. Laura

        Two words -Prop. 13. It’s had a stranglehold on the state since Jerry Brown was a young Governor. Because of the supermajority requirement before raising a tax, the work around has been fees and assessments. Moving violations are not the only instance of revenue generating.
        Here in Sacramento, we’re using public welfare to pay for the new Golden 1 Center home of the Sacramento Kings by monitizing parking and extending it well into residential neighborhoods. Time limits vary from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Miss your limit and it’s a minimum of $42.50 with a goodly portion headed to state coffers.
        Since Prop. 13, corporate taxes as a share of state revenue have declined from 67% or there abouts to 33%.
        Jarvis and Gann can roast in hell for starting the tax payers revolt and all that followed including the “Tea Party.”

        1. Anon

          Here’s a little background on Prop 13. While it initially was an attempt to limit the *increase* in RESIDENTIAL property taxes, it was hijacked by Howard Jarvis (lobbyist for the CA apartment owners association–commercial property) and now provides the greatest benefit to commercial buildings in CA. A residence can only be transferred w/o a tax adjustment to family members, commercial property is transferred w/o a property tax increase through “trusts”, and other legal legerdemain.

          So, in the 70’s when Prop 13 was enacted 60% of property tax was paid by commercial enterprise, today it is only 40% with residential property paying the bulk of 60% of revenue.

          Once again, regular folks have been deceived/cheated of an appropriate balance in taxation. (The most expensive municipal public expenditures are for fire/police, and commercial property is the primary beneficiary.)

          1. david schermerhorn

            My memory, so many years later is far from precise. Others are still around who played a key role. But: The year before Prop 13 came on the ballot, I was involved in a statewide campaign that led to a bill in the state legislature for an overhaul of the property tax system in California. The overhaul was badly needed; fixed-income seniors were, in fact, being taxed out of their homes. The proposal failed, for the switch of one promised vote, that of Uncle Miltie Marks, who ultimately followed the dictates of the Republican caucus. Young Jerry did not support our bill. He backed a different proposal that did not have the support that ours did. I believe that our organization was: CAL – Citizens Action League.
            Parenthetically – Since we had already bought our home at the time, we are still being taxed based on its assessed valuation at that time, $19,000. Our tax is about $500/yr. The current market value of the property is more than 2 million. Our neighbors, a young family with two children, who moved in recently to a much more modest home, are paying 20,000/yr. property tax.

        2. Adam Eran

          Prop 13 has a huge loophole for commercial property that costs the state an estimated $5 billion a year in lost revenue. See for the campaign to fix this.

          Meanwhile, thanks to Prop 13, the little local governments had better collect for their infrastructure costs with building fees (and/or Mello-Roos bonds), or they won’t get them. Rather than being an asset, new development is often a burden. When Butte County had super-low building fees years ago, a boom in development brought them to their knees financially. They were ready to declare bankruptcy.

          I’d suggest Prop 13 was an opportunistic use of Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” when the shock was the inflation of the ’70s.

          Incidentally, as far as I can tell, local building fees in California bear no resemblance to the costs local governments bear for new building. Adjacent counties and cities have wildly different fees, yet the costs of concrete, schools, security and fire protection don’t magically differ so wildly as one crosses a jurisdiction’s boundaries. I’ve read that even non-Prop 13 states (e.g. Florida) deny inner cities revenue by providing artificially low building fees for outlying development, too, so Prop 13 alone isn’t entirely to blame.

          All in all, California development is a swamp of corruption, engendered by designed-to-fail (and working as designed) city “planning” that encourages massive (tax free!) give-aways to land speculators. Until this is straightened out, you can expect many attempts to offload revenue requirements on those least able to pay. … oh yes, and development of the least suitable land to add to land speculators’ profits (it’s cheaper to buy floodplain).

          1. JBird4049

            I suspect the NIMBYs. also have something to do with it also.

            Marc Levine, Marin’s state representative put a loophole just for the county into the state’s housing requirements of each city. The requirements to build a certain amount of low income housing is hardly enforced as it is statewide and I guess not anymore in Marvelous Marin.

            Representative Levine had a nice website and ballot information touting his concern for everyone and how he was going to fight for the people. I guess the weasel doesn’t think poor people count.

            I keep reading how we have an economy the size of France, by itself eighth largest in the world. We, like the United States, have the money, but the people with that money doesn’t want to have to deal or even acknowledge it.

      2. Anon

        This article is spot on! I live in a wealthy California coastal tourist town. And recently was given a traffic citation by the local police for allegedly riding my BICYCLE through the mid-block pedestrian red-light in the tourist promenade known as State Street. (No pedestrians in the crosswalk; bored kids regularly activate the stop lights w/o intent to cross mid-block).

        The two-person squad car stopped me 200′ beyond (at the next real-intersection stop light). When I explained that I was coasting at 5mph (stall speed) and there were no pedestrians crossing, he proceeded to explain that the police department was doing a “safety sweep” and proceeded to write the citation (a $25 base fine that jumps to $238 with “fees” added). Ferguson, MO has nothing on my coastal town.

        The “traffic stop” took a good 40 minutes; a total waste of their time and policing effort. Unfortunately for them, they will be spending time in court as I have a deep interest in preserving my perfect 30 year citation-free driving record (a bicycle is a vehicle in CA). To my consternation I agreed to relinquish my right to a “speedy trial”. In CA the courts must give you a trial date within 45 days of the date of the citation, or drop the issue. (Courts are jammed and a speedy trial is nigh impossible; be aware!). In any case, I’ll get my money’s worth, if not complete vindication.

        1. sd

          In California, jaywalking is a moving violation. Two jaywalking tickets is a point on your license and requires traffic school.

          1. Enquiring Mind

            The Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, the area around the UCLA campus, has been notorious for aggressive parking and jay-walking ticketing for decades. LA, like many cities, uses those as big revenue generators in other neighborhoods as well. It would not be much of a stretch to imagine that people will begin (or continue) to wear a GoPro or similar device with real-time streaming to remote a backup file to be able to prove their movements.

            That is a variation on what Russian drivers have done for years, so that they have time-stamped video defense evidence for hit-and-run or other vehicular crime. In more ways, it has become a jungle out there.

            1. Anon

              Many cyclists and motorcycles are using GoPro cameras in my town. Inattentive driving and aggressive driving is definitely on the rise in my town.

          2. clinical wasteman

            non-rhetorical and nohow scornful of California question (though maybe a foolish one): what happens when the fiendish jaywalker has no driving license? S/he would surely fail serially at ‘driver education’, and would thereby become a cash cow/steer for the State. (So perhaps I just answered my own question.)
            I realize there may not be many such people, but there are — or were, before regeneration/class cleansing of SF, LA and even Oakland — definitely a few, because I’ve known a dozen or so personally in those three places over the last couple of decades. Admittedly mostly ‘foreigners’, or at least from out of state; does the Green Card get suspended instead of the missing license?

      3. JBird4049

        It is a common misconception that life here in the Golden State is golden. Being a life long Californian let me say, fifty years ago, yes, the opportunities were great but now just how good the living here depends just where you live, and if you have money. The wealthy, or at least very well paid tech workers, in the Bay Area, or in places like Los Angeles, which is like a third of the state, live very well. Everyone else, not so much. Really, parts of the state are like the Rust Belt, or some Deep South state. The blueist coastal part of the state is getting wealthier and the rest, especially the red fringes like the northern most forested, or the mountainous parts and especially the Central Valley, are getting screwed.

        And like the rest of the country, the factories, and industries like aviation have left. So even though more people come here for work, the amount of good jobs have at least relative to population, has decline. Also costs like housing has gone up faster than pay.

        Since most of the state is a one party government, it has the same kind of corruption other single party states have. I have noticed that the less functional the Republican Party is here, the more dysfunction and vampiric, the state, and various municipal, governments are. So far the state’s history of expecting a functional government has somewhat offset that. Medi-Cal is a good example. But the extreme wealth gap is helping to kill that. It is like the United States as a whole.

        So the homeless population is always growing, and has for thirty plus years, yet the super wealthy Bay Area cannot seem to care enough to do anything. And the schools are shadows of what they were, but everyone can get all enthusiastic for prisons, and especially gun control. Although I suspect homelessness has effectively killed more people, or ruined more lives.

        1. John Wright

          Fresno Dan had a comment about poverty in CA last August.

          Here is some text from columnist Dan Walters on Aug 13, 2017

          “The five-county Los Angeles region has more than twice as much population as the Bay Area — and nearly half of the state’s residents — but generated just a third of the state’s 2014 adjusted gross income. The Bay Area’s per capita AGI averaged just under $50,000, while the L.A. area’s was scarcely half as much.”

          Here is a link in the Davis, CA paper.

          CA has both the highest/lowest points of the contiguous 48(Death Valley/Mount Whitney) and may have similar income inequality.

          Things do change, as the Walters article has that in LA, effectively 1 million well-paid aerospace jobs went away and were replaced with 1 million low wage jobs.

          “In 1970, the Los Angeles area was ranked No. 1 nationally in per capita income, and the Bay Area, No. 3. By 2009, after both regions had increased in population by about 50 percent, the Bay Area was No. 1 and the Los Angeles region was No. 25.”

          “However, a serious meltdown was just around the corner. The dramatic end of the Cold War in the early 1990s led to a near-collapse of the Southern California aerospace industry and made the region the center of a severe statewide recession. More than 1 million people, many of them aerospace workers and their families, decamped for other states, UCLA economists later calculated, while at least as many economic and political refugees from other countries, particularly Mexico, filled the population vacuum.”

          California is hardly a monolith and has many areas where people are not doing well.

          CA is controlled by the Democratic party, but this has brought us such Democrats as Pelosi, Feinstein and now Kamala Harris.

          They’d probably suggest we simply need to give their wise policies more time.

      4. Too Late For Nostalgia

        My reply was over the top in some ways. Please be patient with this newbie because of the following:
        1) California gave me a chance when my birthplace didn’t, and I love CA with all my heart.
        2) I was truly not aware that this was happening in my state and it hurt me a lot to read it. Yes, sometimes the truth does hurt.

        I said this was an excellent article and that still stands. My tone should have been better.

        The Democratic Party here only fully took over after Pete Wilson and the Republicans failed beyond belief by alienating practically everyone. I am a true independent and I think Governor Brown is basically running my state like a corporation.

        I do believe we are trying to be better as a state, but we have the same binders attached to us as every other state, from corporate cronyism. I think at the state level we need a corruption cleanse.

        Example of good signs: We as a city (SD) have continued to put in light rail even after the usual naysayers tried to stop it and said it wouldn’t work. Our Republican mayor is planning to build shelters for the homeless. These acts may seem small but this is being done in a somewhat conservative environment.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > We as a city (SD) have continued to put in light rail even after the usual naysayers tried to stop it and said it wouldn’t work. Our Republican mayor is planning to build shelters for the homeless. These acts may seem small

          They won’t be small to the people riding the light rail, or the homeless!

    3. kareninca

      Too Late For Nostalgia, how can you say that “we have the best standard of living with the best opportunities for people of all races” when we have the highest poverty rate in the entire country???!!!

      It is because of housing costs. Yes, it is true that CA has some consumer laws that are very helpful to regular people. We have some good environmental laws. There is probably less day to day racism here than elsewhere. But if you cannot find a place to live – if you are living in an unconverted garage or in an RV or on a stream bed in a tent or in a sleeping bag on the concrete in a doorway (as I saw an elderly man the other evening), that hardly supports a claim of “the best standard of living.”

      I have a friend who has intermittent schizophrenic episodes. Here in CA, he was homeless for years, and there was no prospect of that changing. Since when he moved to the U.S. in the 70s, he first landed in CT and lived there for a few years, he decided to try going back to CT. Within weeks he had been placed in a group home. Now that is civilized. Here in CA I see old people, mentally ill people, sick people (a friend of mine who lives in her car has constantly swollen legs; she is 74 y.o.) living “al fresco.” This is not a best standard of living; it is unimaginably revolting but people seem inured to it.

      CA is a very nice place indeed if you have housing and are not in a weak position that might cause you to lose it. Most people can find themselves in a weak position.

      1. Too Late For Nostalgia

        Karen, It is my opinion that we have a good standard of living because of my experiences living here. I don’t think everyone has it made and I’m sorry if the way I wrote it makes it sound that way. I worked in very large companies and in these places I met an incredibly diverse mixture of people that I would normally never meet. Because I like to talk to everyone, I got to know everyone from the janitors to the executives by name. I found that practically everyone was doing well in CA compared to what their lives would be like somewhere else. That is why people pay ridiculous amounts to live here and there are more coming in every day.
        If a person has health and especially mental health issues then I am not sure there is any place in the U.S. that is a good place to live.
        I am sorry to hear about your friend.

        1. kareninca

          TLFN, I don’t want to be mean, but it really seems like you are oblivious to the enormousness of the homelessness problem in CA and the mental and physical health problems it causes. I drive down El Camino in the Palo Alto area and the road is lined with RVs. These are not vacationers. I tell my friends who live in nearby cities about it, and they describe to me the huge RV thoroughfares in their towns. They describe to me how in the less fancy towns nearby, countless people actually live on the sidewalks, if they can’t afford an RV or a car.

          I too have done very well in CA. I came here from New England and it has been great. I’m well enough off, and so are the people I’m around day to day. If I based my views on my own personal experiences living here, I’d have a sunny view of it too. That is totally irrelevant. Have you read articles like this one: Sixteen people just died in San Diego due to a Hepatitis A outbreak; it is because homeless people have no toilets and nowhere to wash:

          Also, you said: “If a person has health and especially mental health issues then I am not sure there is any place in the U.S. that is a good place to live.”

          I’m sorry but that assertion is just making my blood pressure skyrocket.
          Physically and mentally ill people can have excellent lives if they have proper housing and treatment – things that CA does not provide. Connecticut takes far, far better care of sick and and mentally ill people than California does. Things that people just take for granted in CT or Rhode Island (and from what little I’ve seen, Maine) are not available in CA. These services make all the difference for the mentally ill. Saying that they would be miserable no matter where they are, is just a way of getting out of providing care for them.

          1. Too Late For Nostalgia

            I am very sorry. My comments were poorly written. I have just started commenting again on-line after I took a long break and I have some learnin’ to do.

            I feel bad that I came across as someone who doesn’t care about or notice the homeless. That is not me at all. I believe that California should do much more for the homeless and I am willing to put my money towards that end. Thank you for being the better person. You are one of the reasons CA is a good place.

            1. kareninca

              Actually I could tell that you meant well, otherwise I would have been rottener.

              Totally leaving aside your views, it does drive me crazy that people in California seem to think that homelessness is normal. I grew up in the 1970s, and there was no homelessness then, none at all, compared with now. It was a different world.

              The only answer in CA is a huge building program. But California will not do that. So the problem will not be solved; it will just get worse. People will continue to move here for the jobs, but there will be nowhere they can afford to live. Donating money is admirable but it won’t help unless it results in the building of a LOT more housing, and I don’t see that happening. Zoning, zoning, zoning, and environmental regulations (many of which it is hard to argue against).

              1. Too Late For Nostalgia

                Thank you for your wonderful reply. Can we agree to be friendly from now on? I would greatly appreciate it because I learn so much from Yves, Lambert, the crew, and the great posters like you!

                1. kareninca

                  TLFN, you are taking this far too seriously. My opinion doesn’t matter one bit; you don’t need my approval; I rarely get anyone else’s approval (and that doesn’t bother me, although I regret sometimes being inadvertently annoying). I am guessing that you feel stressed out by any sort of conflict and feel a powerful need to defuse it, and if I am guessing right then by all means we can officially agree to be friendly. Best wishes.

  3. heresy101

    If you can not pay they fine, fines are not a deterrent to repeat behavior but a mechanism of punishment for the poor. Government and the courts need to pay their costs through progressive income taxes and a small fixed fine on the traffic deviant, to be paid over time if necessary. Fix-it tickets should be just that only, get it fixed and no fine.

    As the one who ran the work portion of the Alameda County Weekender Work Furlough Program for ten years, picking up litter, cutting weeds, painting over graffiti, etc is a better way to incent drivers from speeding, illegal turns, etc. They will remember their work experience as they drive in the future. Most of the furloughers were working because of DUI, but more serious traffic offenses could benefit from making the County a better place.

  4. sd

    California is not the sunny friendly image it likes to portray itself as. And yes, there is north vs south, coastal vs inland, mountain vs valley. Orange County vs everywhere else. It’s more like 6 states in 1.

    Adding fuel to the fire. It has a very hostile environment for applying for unemployment benefits. The system is set up to discourage you from finding work and collecting benefits. If you are collecting benefits, and find short term work, say for two weeks during which you report earnings and do not collect benefits, California institutes an investigation, halts continuing benefits payments during the investigation, requires a phone interview which you must not miss – they call you – this process can last several weeks just to determine that you had a short break in the claim because you found short term work. Now repeat this every time you have a short break for finding work. Your benefits can and will be backlogged for weeks at a time where every penny counts.

    If you find a job that lasts six weeks, when finished and you want to collect benefits again, even though you have an open claim, you are required to report 18 months of income history. Just to continue an existing claim. If you make a mistake or your records don’t match your employers exactly, California docks you 15 weeks of benefits from your benefit year. When you open a claim you are required to attend a job search seminar held by a private organization contracted with the state. If you miss the seminar, you lose benefits. The seminar is fairly useless. My guess is whoever started it is making money off of the state either by contracting the services or renting the office space.

    So they penalize you for finding short term work and they penalize you for trying to collect benefits that you paid into.


    I’ve seen a friend have their vehicle impounded for 60 days for an expired registration that was just 2 days late. Another have her car seized for walking her dog off leash. A bleeding mugging victim arrested because they weren’t carrying identification. Car towed because it was left overnight? $145 ticket, $195 impound fee, $165 towing fee.

    So this article just shines a light on what’s actually a very consistent pattern of punishing people when they are down.

    1. JBird4049

      Marin county for years wasn’t approving GA or general assistance even when people qualified. Since your income had be nothing, or nearly so, and the $367 monthly payment (which is considered, and treated as a loan) is usually their only income, not many could contest the denial. The county paper, the Marin IJ published some stories, and that changed.

      The county is rich. Parts of it are like a fairyland, and yet was not giving out even the most basic of assistance, and at the worst of the Great Recession too.

      1. Ned

        “Treated as a loan?” Have a citation for that statement? You’re saying it’s different than other California counties?

        People who choose to migrate to the one of the most expensive counties in America with zero manufacturing jobs and competition from an endless pool of low wage Hispanic labor for service jobs have a hard time surviving, that’s true.

        Please note that Los Angeles County has a higher average rental cost than Marin.

        1. JBird4049

          I do not know if it is different than other counties, although I believe, it is/was so, but if I ever find my signed paperwork from the county, on the requirement to pay back GA from just a few years ago, I will be happy to cite that. It was restated verbally to my face, and by writing. If that has changed, excellent!

          And on this migration thing what about the native born Californian of native born Californians? I have know white Californians whose family have lived here since, or before, the Gold Rush. New, or old, we are all having problems.

          We could spend time complaining about who has the most expensive housing, which I believe is Silicon Valley which is also, like Marin County, in the Bay Area. Although I wouldn’t count a minimum of ~$1,700 for a junior one bedroom apartment cheap in Marin, and it is worse in San Francisco.

          Perhaps it would be nice not to play gotcha posting, hmmm?

  5. Steve

    All so true. Also, seeing these increasing wages in the public sector to keep up with the cost of living I’ve begun to wonder this scenario.

    A licensed house painter and a police officer each married with two children desire to own a home in the same neighborhood. Comparing both occupations with business costs and deductions how many typical average 1200 – 1500 sq. foot single story exterior homes must the painter paint per year to live in the same neighborhood?

    My guess is seeing protesters quickly changing their tune about which occupation deserves every penny.

  6. Sluggeaux

    The other social cost: drivers whose licenses are suspended due to unpaid fines lose their car insurance. The number of uninsured (or under-insured) drivers in California is staggering, considering the lack of decent public transit and the insane cost of housing in core areas.

    In Silicon Valley the new D.A. decided to use his discretion in cases involving licenses suspended due to unpaid fines to dismiss if the defendants paid-off their outstanding fines in 6-9 months. Most of these defendants were the working poor, who had to choose between outrageous Silicon Valley rents or paying minor traffic fines, and needed to drive to work. The program became a huge success.

    So huge a success that the court system has had to lay-off a third of its courtroom staff and to close traffic courts, forcing people to drive 42 miles from outlying areas to pay their fines. Their sparkling-new Italian marble-faced $225M Family Justice Center is in a $105M deficit — largely due to lost revenue from suspended license cases…

  7. TK421

    I”m not sure that stopping someone from driving in the San Francisco area is a punishment! Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

    1. JBird4049

      San Francisco is not that bad. Although the Financial District has very creative driving at times. Los Angeles is also a positive delight if you like fear.

      In San Francisco, it’s not the drivers, or even the bicyclists, it the darn pedestrians walking with their noses in a screen. The pedestrian has the right of here in California, but if you insist on crossing without looking up and maybe checking the light or even go between between parked cars also while not looking up, the laws of physics supersedes everything.

      1. David

        So would I, yet here we are talking about fines being too high. Too high for the poor, too low for the rich, and just right for the (diminishing) middle class.

        Aren’t fines supposed to act as a deterrent? The article isn’t clear as to whether traffic violations among the poor in California are decreasing as a result of the higher cost of fines.

        I’d like to see some cause-effect analysis rather than more data mining nonsense. Oh look, I found another correlation…

        1. marym

          If there is a decrease in accidents “among the poor”, that can possibly also be a correlation. There are other possible explanations: young people starting to drive later or driving less because they can’t afford to drive, people who would drive a distance to work not able to find jobs, older people driving less or not at all due to infirmities or the expenses of aging, etc.

          Also, what I think we’re exploring here is the extent to which fines, fees, late charges, asset forfeiture are solely intended as a mechanism to decrease crime, or increase public safety. Are they a regressive approach to funding state and local government in lieu of progressive tax policies?

          1. Anon

            The Calif. Supreme Court has ruled that exhorbitant traffic fees (which support the Superior Courts) are, in fact, a hidden *tax* and need Legislative approval.

            1. David

              Could you provide a source for this ruling?

              Here’s what the legislature is proposing (SB 185)

              -require the court to reduce the base fine and associated fees by 80% if the court establishes that the defendant is indigent, and to provide alternatives to immediate payment of the sentence, including a payment plan option.

              -require the court to determine the amount a defendant can afford to pay per month by using a payment calculator developed by the Judicial Council

              -for persons not found to be indigent, the bill would require that the monthly payment not exceed 5% of the defendant’s family monthly income

              -for defendants found to be indigent, the bill would require that monthly payments be $0 until the defendant’s financial circumstances change, and would require the remaining amount owed to be discharged after 48 months in the interest of justice.

              -would delete initiating suspensions or holds for driver’s licenses from the list of activities the program may engage in.

              -would repeal the provisions authorizing the court to notify the department of a failure to pay a fine or bail.

              -would repeal certain provisions prohibiting the department from issuing or renewing a person’s driver’s license upon receipt of a notice of a defendant’s failure to pay, with respect to designated violations.

              The bill would also negate the state constitutional requirement that the state reimburse local agencies and school districts for costs mandated by this provision.

              So if you’re poor, or rich, the laws might not be enforced. If you’re in the middle, good luck. Sounds an awful lot like Obamacare to me.

        2. cnchal

          Aren’t fines supposed to act as a deterrent? . . .

          Fines are an incentive.

          In the last millennium, around 1989, in the city of Edmonton Alberta, at a city council meeting centered on the budget of the Edmonton Police. the city manager suggested to the police chief that he set up photo radar traps and keep the money raised, which he estimated at only half a million in the first year. He lied. It was multi millions.

          People went along with it because a photo radar ticket would be for cash and leave your license alone, but that’s politics.

          Policing for profit is older than the first radar trap. In Edmonton it’s taken literally.

  8. Richard

    This doesn’t totally fit here, but it shares subheadings of “class” and “traffic”, so I’ll throw in.
    No doubt many of you have seen those signs, as you walk through neighborhoods with single family houses and smaller streets, that often have a caution or stop sign, pictures of kids, pets, even effing squirrels crossing the road. Now I’m a friend of all those things, even the tree rat (no hard feelings), but I often think of my own neighborhood two blocks to the east, also with many kids, living in apartments. The average speed on the street is 40 or 50 mph, plus we get draggers and motorcycles in big groups on weekend nights, and then it’s truly death dealing.
    So I wonder, how many people from the neighborhood I go for walks in (my own has no sidewalk) think about what they get to ask for (and get! Speedbumps, signs and provisions for their neighborhood), and what we don’t?

  9. Ned

    Solano County is mostly Black. Originally it was like Oakland, a place where Pullman porters lived around the railroad. Then WWII brought tens of thousands of sharecroppers up from Louisiana to work in the nearby war industries at Mare Island in Vallejo, Oakland, and Richmond. Because of Henry Kaiser’s shipyards and other war industries, San Francisco’s black population went from 1% black to 13% overnight as the Lousianans were moved into neighborhoods emptied of the Japanese Americans shuttled off to the concentration camps, relocation centers, whatever you want to call them.

    Now that S.F. is the most expensive rental market in America, the majority of blacks, except those living in multi-generational housing projects or the now rich property owners, have left the city for places like Solano County that enjoyed, or suffered, massive apartment building booms in the 1990s on.

    You cannot live and work without a car in Fairfield and areas like that as it gets to 100 degrees in the summer and there’s no decent public transit. Sit in your decaying stucco and plywood apartment in the A/C and watch tv all day and it’s endurable.

    How to fight a moving violation written by a live human being?
    Sign the ticket and at the last possible moment that you can, change your court date. This will more likely conflict with the issuing cop’s schedule and their no show means the ticket is dismissed.

    BTW, those yellow triangular “speed limit signs” are advice for truckers and are not legal limits. Only the white square signs with “Speed Limit X” are legally binding

      1. Ned

        Oops, right you are. Some of the towns there are mostly black, concentrated along the old Southern Pacific Railroad right of way.

  10. Jacob

    “Courts throughout California and the country use fines as a source of revenue.”

    Ostensibly designed and enforced for public safety, traffic fines were intended as preventative punishment for violating traffic laws. Using traffic fines to balance a government’s budget is a perversion of the original public safety intent.

  11. Too Late For Nostalgia

    I thought I knew CA pretty well since I’ve been here 40 years and travelled the whole state.
    But after reading this article and the excellent comments above, including the fair and constructive criticism of mine, to paraphrase one my favorite Canadians: “I really don’t know CA at all”.

    This is why I read and need NC.

  12. KFritz

    My apologies upfront, but this will be a slightly rambling comment.

    First, a minor quibble with one of the ‘facts and figures.’ I’d like to know if the “not ticketed for speeding” numbers correlate at all with mph above the limit, or concomitant driving patterns. The number of people let off because of no prior tickets probably does favor whites simply because they are let off more often–a self-reinforcing pattern.

    Derelict looking vehicles are a magnet for police attention. They’re often an indication of ‘lives gone off the rails,’ which correlates to some degree with criminal involvement. Selfishly for the police, they often do find ‘contraband’ and vehicle violations with ‘funky’ cars–which makes their arrest record and productivity look better. Even if there’s no direct policy of revenue ‘enhancement’ using vehicular violations, it’s a way for police to advance in the ranks and raise their pay.

    While it’s an absolute necessity, driving is still a privilege–the right to drive is constitutional, but dependent on some level of good behavior. That’s a refrain of Australian traffic police…which leads to…

    I’d urge everyone to visit YouTube to watch a few of the five minute videos of “Highway Patrol Australia,” a ‘reality show’ filmed in Victoria State. The state police there have one of the highest approval ratings of any force in the world, if Wikipedia is to be believed. And the department is obviously going to put its best and brightest on camera. IMLTHO, the videos show traffic enforcement as it can be–what good, rational policy looks like. The policies (which I assume are similar to other states) seem to be working: Australia’s traffic deaths per mileage drive are half those of the US. (And they do look for derelict vehicles.) The level of civility, manners, and cooperation–even from career criminals–are an amazement for someone used to American behavior. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make the show required viewing for US legislators, law enforcement, and encarcerated criminals. And open carry advocates. Especially here in California.

    Proportional-to-ability-to-pay fines are a good idea. However–in order to keep deterrents to dangerous driving in place, it would then be a good idea to increase the points toward suspension for really dangerous violations. Skeptically, I’ll bet that a certain portion of the drivers who are complaining about financial oppression will scream even louder at this suggestion

  13. Wukchumni

    Right around the time of the financial crisis a decade ago, I got a ticket for going 10 mph over the speed limit, which came to $410, plus $75 for traffic school…

    It struck me, that the fine was not dissimilar in terms of percentage of an annual average salary in these United States, versus what the various civil penalties that the Wall*Street firms paid for their ‘reckless thriving’, in terms of their annual salary~

  14. Bigfoot

    I was a public defender in Rochester, NY. The article applies there as well. I happily assume it holds true for every county in the country.

    1. Jack

      Same holds true here in South Carolina. ACLU filed a lawsuit against one of the wealthiest counties in the state, Lexington County, regarding making non-payment of fines result in a de facto debtor’s prison;
      From the ACLU article, “Lexington County is home to a modern-day debtors’ prison, with some of the longest jail terms we’ve seen across the country,” said Nusrat Choudhury, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “People who can afford to pay buy their freedom, while poor people are imprisoned, causing their families to suffer, their jobs to disappear, and their chances of escaping poverty to become even more remote.”

  15. none

    Get rid of the conflict of interest by mandating that all traffic fines (and civil forfeitures until they get banned completely) are to be paid 100% into the state treasury’s general fund. Traffic enforcement is nominally done for public safety reasons and as such, its costs should be borne by normal law enforcement budgets.

    Those budgets might have to increase if the direct revenue from the tickets dries up, but there can’t be any type of reimbursement from the state for writing tickets. They get X dollars to fund their whole LE operation and have to decide how much of it to allocate to traffic enforcement without treating it as a profit center.

  16. Not Utah

    This is a vague memory that a Scandinavian country had traffic fines as a percentage of your income. If that was applied to USA traffic stops and towns raising money by fines, it could shift some of the enforcement targets.

      1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

        Finland, too, I believe. Makes more sense.

        For that matter, Oregon allows fines as a percentage of in come in some cases, but courts rarely use that option.

  17. Pookah Harvey

    The idea behind fines is to discourage behavior that endangers the general public. The fine should be equally painful to any that partake in that behavior. Many countries seem to understand this.


    Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman, was recently caught going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone in his home country—an offense that would typically come with a fine of a couple hundred dollars, at most, in the U.S. But after Finnish police pulled Kuisla over, they pinged a federal taxpayer database to determine his income, consulted their handbook, and arrived at the amount that he was required to pay: €54,000.
    The fine was so extreme because in Finland, some traffic fines, as well as fines for shoplifting and violating securities-exchange laws, are assessed based on earnings—and Kuisla’s declared income was €6.5 million per year.


    One Swedish motorist could be facing a gargantuan speeding fine — up to $962,000 — after he was caught driving 180 mph along a Swiss motorway.
    Police seized the Swede’s driver’s license and 570-horsepower black Mercedes-Benz after he was released from police custody, The Local, a website that covers Swedish news, reported. He could face a penalty of up to 1 million Swiss francs — or $962,000 — depending on his income level, The Local reported.
    In January, a Swiss court slapped a $290,000 speeding ticket on a millionaire Ferrari driver who drove 60 mph (nearly twice the 30 mph limit) through a small village.

    Yves article states:

    Yesterday, a court there cited the man’s personal wealth of more than $30 million, and the court ordered him to pay $109,000 as a drunk-driving penalty – almost his entire annual income.

    According to an article in the San Francisco Gate “Speeding fines being linked to income in Europe”:

    Germany, France, Austria and the Nordic countries also issue punishments based on a person’s wealth. In Germany the maximum fine can be as much as $16 million compared to only $1 million in Switzerland.

    “It wasn’t about making the punishment harsher or lighter, but more sensible,” said Heinz Sutter, an official at the Swiss Justice Ministry.

    Local governments need revenue largely because of tax cuts for the rich. If local government uses fines to make up for those shortfalls it would be nice if the police were incentivized to go after that group.

  18. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    Oregon – since it’s on the table – will be raising its fine for Failure To Obey Traffic Control Device to $265. We’re also going to make 3rd time Mobile Electronic Device usage a crime.

    It was a pleasure to read the settlement in Fuentes v. Benton County and find out that the local municipal court meets or exceeds all the ACLU’s requirements for “fairness.” Nothing beats doing the right thing from the get-go!

    I’ve always been in a minority as seeing suspension of a driver’s license as not particularly useful as a tool for inducing compliance. It’s excellent for inducing further revenue – but that is not supposed to be the purpose of the system, after all. One of the saddest license suspension cases I’ve ever seen was a woman who’d paid thousands of dollars in fines over the years. Paid on time, on target. And *none* of those courts she’d been in front of, or officers who’d cited her, could be bothered to tell her that all she had to do to reinstate her license was pay DMV $105 for reinstatement. She broke down in tears, in court, explaining what a huge difference that was going to make to her and her daughter.

    As I recall, her fine for DWS n that court was also then suspended since she’d obtained a license.

    But, as I said, it’s a minority court compared to a lot of others who only see files, not actual human beings, standing there at counsel table.

  19. Lynne

    Sorry for the late comment, but this kind of thing:

    According to LCCR, “people of color are more likely to be detained despite not doing anything wrong.”

    Drives me nut, especially when lawyers who should know better use this kind of fantasy thinking. It is as a practical matter almost impossible to drive any distance anywhere in the US without breaking some law, even if it is nothing more than one of the more obscure rules of the road. We can debate whether some of the rules should be rules at all, and whether they should be only secondary enforcement, meaning not grounds for a stop, but to say cops can’t find SOMETHING a person did wrong while driving is naive.

    Also, why are they comparing ticket stats with population stats? The test should be tickets vs drivers. Might be the same result, but it’s not always the same.

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