A pair of stories highlight how much our criminal justice system has been taken over by unrestrained government greed. When I talk to a defendant about the costs of the average DWI plea, the $450 court costs, the $1,000 fine,$50 a month for community service, the $3,000 surcharge, most are shocked. Then I tell them how court costs are really a regressive tax for all kinds of special projects. The fine is the county’s take, the probation fee is a make-work program for the local government, and the surcharge is the result of politicians taxing the group least likely to complain or organize.
They usually reply “This system is all about money isn’t it”. Yes it is. DWI cases have the fake moral outrage factor. That somehow these defendants are awful people who “chose to break the law”, ignoring the fact that DWI is an opinion crime prosecutoed with make believe bullshit SFSTs and crooked DPS lab workers.
The real theft occurs in ticket cases. Ticket courts are cash cows for city and county government. There is less of the phony pretense of “safety” or “justice” involved. The city needs your money, and they will throw lock you in a cage until you pay. Have you ever wondered why a typical speeding ticket fine is over $200. Was the “danger” you posed to the community $200 bad? Or does the government want to maximize how much it steals from each driver? Ticket fines are a political decision. Judges get pressure from other pols (county commissioners, city officials) to up the take so the city can avoid raising tax rates.
And the tickets court have the ultimate weapon to ensure compliace. If you choose not to take part in this scam they arrest you and lock you up. The Star Telegram reports that the City of Fort Worth kidnapped a single mother because she couldn’t afford the $3,400 in fines they wanted for 10 traffic tickets. This mother spent 10 days in jail because of government greed. Never mind that traffic tickets have no jail time as a possible sentence. Courts get around this by making defendants “sit out” ticket in jail. The Texas Constitution also bans debtor’s prison, but again, our courts allow jail time when you owe the government money.
Dallas, which is basically a reality show version of The Wire, has a similar program for young adults. I’ve never understood truancy laws. The idea that the government can force someone to go to a government school always struck me overreaching. I don’t have kids, but the idea that local school board owns them would probably offend me if I did. But I digress.
The Dallas truancy courts lock up children and their parents until they cough up cash for the “crime” of being tardy, or missing too many days at their fine DISD educational facility. These truancy courts are financially self sustained, in that they are funded by the fines they impose, and schools are paid in part by how many children attend each day. Incentives matter, and in a system like this corruption is guaranteed. Schools needs kids for money, courts need money to survive. Due process? Justice? Who cares?
DISD has automated this process and uses a computer to automatically file cases and determine if probable cause exists to have a student hauled into court and shaken down for cash. Nice. Fortunately, DISD is being sued for this deplorable practice.