No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.
Texas Constitution Article I Section 18
A tragic death in Tarrant County highlights the need to reform Texas traffic ticket laws. From CBS 11 news-
Ten days into serving her sentence at the Tarrant County Jail, a Fort Worth woman died.
Police say Adrienne Lemons was serving time for unpaid traffic tickets. The 35-year-old was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital on June 13, where she later died. Lemons leaves behind a 3-year-old child.
Lemons’ family said she was not receiving the medication she needed for a serious medical condition.
In Texas traffic tickets do not contain jail as a possible punishment. No judge can sentence a traffic ticket defendant to any period of jail time. Nevertheless thousands of Texans are jailed annualy over traffic violations. How is this possible?
Two ways. The first is when a defendant does not appear at this traffic ticket court date and a failure to appear/warrant is issued. Second, failing to pay fines can lead to a warrant for the payment of those fines.
These unjust policies reflect the truth about Texas traffic enforcement. Tickets are taxes and local government will incarcerate to maximize revenue. Talk about public safety is good PR. However, the truth is that county jails in Texas have become debtors prisons, and our police are human repo men for local governments.
Like other unjust policies this has a disparate impact on the poor. Ticket defendants who can not afford an attorney or the prohibitive ticket fines have no choice but to “sit out” their fines in the county jail.
Texas needs to reform this system before another innocent person dies in jail. First, we need to end the practice of incarceration for failure to pay ticket fines. We do not allow the government to incarcerate for failure to pay other taxes (property, sales etc) why should ticket taxes be different. Texas already has the ability to suspend your driver’s license for non payment.
Second, if Texans decide that some traffic offenses (driving with no license etc) should require jail time as a possible punishment the we need to require court appointed counsel in those cases.
Such a system would have prevented Ms. Lemon’s death, and prevented the fake ticket scandal in Dallas. Government greed has already cost one life. No one should be imprisoned for debt. Traffic tickets should not be a death sentence.