Texas Traffic Ticket Death Sentence

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.

Contradictory Supreme Court rulings allow Texas police to arrest for traffic offenses, and allows the State to deny court appointed counsel to the indigent.

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.

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18 responses to “Texas Traffic Ticket Death Sentence”

  1. Bill says:

    Robert, I’m usually 100% in agreement with you, but this time I’m not so sure. If you take away the possibility of jail time, what incentive is there for someone to pay a traffic ticket? I think that the number of unlicensed and/or uninsured motorists out there indicates that for a substantial portion of the population, just suspending their drivers license isn’t much of a motivator.

  2. Bill says:

    Great questions.

    If Texas wants incarceration for tickets, then we must have court appointed counsel available. Otherwise, it’s a corrupt money grab.

    Uninsured motorists/unlicensed drivers are a huge problem in Texas. If Texans want to arrest for those offenses then we should grant indigent defense.

    So maybe my new stance is
    1. 95% of traffic offenses should have no arrest capability, even for failure to pay.
    2. If you want to arrest for no DL/no insurance- then provide court appointed counsel.

    Great points. Thanks for reading.

  3. Regen says:

    It is always a problem when money and government get together. As you state, “traffic tickets are a huge source of revenue for local governments”
    That is the fundamental problem. If there was no incentive for the government to raise money this way, traffic laws would be much more sensible.

    In Indonesia, the neither the military nor the police are fully funded by taxes, and are expected to provide ways of funding themselves. This leads to huge corruption because they effectively run two protection rackets to raise the money.

    Should we be promoting this type of corruption in the United States by allowing local jurisdictions to keep the money from fines? If you reduce the maximum fine you remove the incentive for people not to break the law. But if you remove the monetary benefit of the fines from the local jurisdictions, you eliminate the abuse.

    Constitutional a blog covering 2nd Amendment Issues, Big Government and the Nanny State.

  4. Ms. Cook says:

    What can we do to be heard? That is horrible what happened to the young lady. I want to help.

  5. Robert Guest says:

    Ms. Cook,
    What to do? That is a tough question. First, I would contact my state rep and let them know you want the system reformed.

    Second, share this post with others so we can spread the word about this injustice.

    Thanks for reading,

  6. Jenny says:

    This was my daughter-in-law. She was not perfect but she did not deserve this. Maybe the deputies or jailers could not give out meds BUT they are responsible to get her medical attention. She did hand over three prescription bottles when she entered their care.

  7. John Galt says:

    This is the reason why I fear the police more than the criminals. I have lived overseas in socialist countries and experienced the fear of knowing the police, prosecutors and judges have all the power, guns and colorable authority to destroy your life. No wonder so many wealthy educated Americans are permanently emigrating to other countries to get away from the creeping fascism here.

  8. ttownbeast says:

    I am one of those in debt from Washington state thanks to traffic laws there I got pulled over and ticketed I face 90 days in jail and 1000 dollars in fines for driving while suspended I had a legal license for 10 years and only 2 of it was for Washington state I never received any infractions in any other states I was licensed. I left the state and live elsewhere now I still have a pending traffic court date, but I’ll be damned if I am going to spend another dime on those leeches and do 90 days in jail for a paperwork offense. I served the jail time for the DUI offense and got behind on the money owed. I worked my entire time living in that state paying the ridiculous mandatory insurance rates, starving to death, sleeping in my car so I could raise the funds to get out of debt so I could get it reinstated. So I bought a bus ticket and left, no way in hell should I get a longer jail sentence for being broke compared to the original offense. I did the 1 day minimum in jail on a first offense for a DUI before that my record was great for 9 years, the minimum jail for driving while suspended is ten days in Washington and they don’t care for what reason either you could have an unpaid speeding ticket and thats what it will get you.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I hope the Lemons family sues and get the ball rolling on all the deaths in Tarrant County, In Aug of 2003, we lost an Uncle in Tarrant County Greenbay jail under odd circumstances, my grandmother was able to see Danny by a video on the 3rd day of his death. She got to see him only in transport from one van to another going to the funeral home. They even done his makeup and cut his hair for know extra charge at the morgue. The funny thing is a jailer posing as inmates writes several letters saying Danny was a good man and died in his sleep, about 15 inmates in all, it was handwriting analyzed this man wrote as at least 7 of them I have documentations. In Dec 2004 we get another letter, after my Aunt wrote to him calling him a murderer, this one addressed Colorado Springs and post marked Ft Worth, talking about he didn’t know how bad Danny’s injuries where that he had received, again posing as someone else and again the handwriting is confirmed. Danny sure made a lot of friends in a short amount of time. The handwriting matches the officer, the signatures are ex-inmates that weren’t even in jail at the time. The autopsy says heart attack, that’s all, He was 40 in good health at the time before he went to jail. He had visible bruising around his neck, I have pictures that my Grandmother and her daughters took on the outgoing door of the medicals examiners, I have all the letters this so called officer wrote, I don’t know what else to do. Can anyone out here help me stop them, more and more deaths are happening in Tarrant County Jail someone really needs to look into these deaths

  10. Sandy says:

    Poor people need to pay their bills or they deserve to sit behind bars. If they can’t afford a lawyer then tough cookies, freedom belongs in the hands of people with more money. People like you must work harder so people like me don’t have to. 🙂

  11. Anonymous says:

    To Anonymous July 21, 2008 10:08 PM, You say that I need to work harder! well to tell the truth I own 3 business and I work more than most men or women and I pay my bills, I don’t see why it gives any one any right to not give health care to another person, or to miss treat them due to the being in jail or in prison, they are still human, not a wild animal, if they acted that way, then they would be locked up and watched 24/7, and giving medicine to keep them sedated, I work hard to and still believe that you treat people with dignity and not persecute them ,that is what the law is for.

  12. Glenn Stewart says:

    The problem is that no one has the money to challenge local laws (and state) in federal court. Most of the local stuff would not survive constitutional challenge, but as history reveals, unconstitutional laws remain on the books until challenged in federal court. I was arrested, fined, required to report in, etc., etc., all many months before I was convicted of a driving violation. Due process is a joke when there is no federal protection of my constitutional rights.

  13. Anthony says:

    Hi, great article. I am being hounded by Linebarger and Goggan regarding a traffic ticket I already paid around 2003. Hopefully, I can resolve this issue with them, but the problem is that I am indigent. I receive $885 in SSDI per month. Mr. Guest, is it possible that I will have my license suspended or I will be arrested without the opportunity to be heard if I don’t pay the $300 they are asking? I drove with an outdated maintenance sticker, which I promptly fixed. Tell me I can’t go to jail for this? Can you recommend any pro bono help? What options do I have if I want to go to court to resolve this? I am indigent, so all of my filing fees should be free. Thanks. Anthony, Dallas County.

  14. Anonymous says:

    it starts with one ticket. stuck in the system. take away drivers license, cant get a job cant drive to a job, cant pay the fines no way to do work to pay off fines all can do is time. is tis justice?

  15. kc says:

    hi all
    i am a foreigner and got a ticket in california state a year ago. i didn’t pay for it and now i am going to states in a few months’ time, will I be faced with an arrest warrant if i pass through the custom?

  16. Dina Garcia says:

    It is all about money. Most people don’t pay fines because they don’t have the money! If you had to choose between feeding your hungry child and insurance what would you pay? Would you not go to work and let your child starve because you didn’t have insurance? People cannot afford all this crap!!!~!I work hard I have had insurance for many years, but as a single parent who got no child support I had to make choices. Sometimes my insurance lapsed till I could pay it. $2400.00 a year with a good driving record and an older vehicle! Not to mention 200.00 and up for the slightest infraction of traffic? That’s insane!!!!!!

  17. Dixie Drazan says:

    I am a divorced mom of 5 daughters. I am their sole support. I received a speeding ticket..180.00 I don’t have the money. The place I worked at went out of business. I am scared, the ticket is due tomorrow, I wonder if I show up to plead guilty but unable to pay fine, will they put me in jail. We only have a few chickens left to butcher. Can they put me in jail for unpaymentof this speeding ticket?

  18. Lacy says:

    I am angry that they can put a warrant out for arrest in Texas. This is ridiculous and they come knocking on your door in front of your kids and family for as low as $50. This happened to me last night. I am a single mom at home getting my child ready for bed and a Tarrant County officer came banging on my door and flashlighting my windows trying to take me to jail. What the hell is wrong with this inconsiderate jerk who should be out arresting the real criminals. I am a single mother and have lost my job twice this year and its been a struggle. And they want to come banging on my door for 30 minutes scaring my child who had school in the morning by the way for a court cost from a traffic ticket. Is there any justice in the U.S. or the state of Texas. We have soldiers out here fighting for our live and they get ruined over traffic tickets inside our own country because of the hardships of some. Sick, makes me so sick. After losing my job I lost my car, my home and other things. Those things can be replaced though but someone taking me to jail in front of my child is not. I will fight this for any single mom and any one else til the day I die because this is rediculous. I cannot believe that the officer who is supposed to protect and serve does the exact opposite. Instead they arrest those who have traffic tickets and ruin their life and hurt their families by putting them in jail instead of giving them other options. I am putting this in GODS hands right now and I pray that they leave me alone at home and when I get all the financial pieces back together I will take care of their traffic ticket fine. But you tell me how I can help you get justice for this because I am thinking about calling all the news stations and frying everyones butts for this huge injustice. That officer who came to my door last night should be ashamed of yourself. If you were a single dad working your butt off after losing your job twice and trying to catch up and get everything back together and an officer came to your door while putting your child into bed so they can rest for school in the morning and they took you to jail… hoew would feel and what would your child do… they would be scared and where would they put them? So I pray this man does not come to my door threatening and harrassing me again about this traffic ticket. I will join the fight against this injustice even if it takes everything in me!!!!!

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