“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Something to Ponder

Still fighting the crud here, but made it into work today and then court. Which gave me an observation I want to bring up for group discussion.

Today was one of the traffic dockets for this particular courtroom - three days a week, two sessions in the morning, three courtrooms. Just to give you some background. For statistics sake I'd say probably averages out to about 100-150 individual defendants per docket total, so call it 500 traffic cases per week for the jurisdiction just for a round number. Relatively typical for an area of this size.

I only had some minor stuff I was there for, so I got a lot of time to watch other officers testify as well as various defendants. Which gets us started on this post as a whole.

Today (I counted) in this one courtroom I saw ten people appear before the judge with a charge of driving on a suspended license or without a license for the fifth time or greater - meaning they had been convicted of doing the same thing in the past ten years at least four times prior.  In this state Driving on a Suspended License or With No Operator's License (2nd offense or greater) is a misdemeanor offense in this state, punishable by a fine of up to $1200 and up to a year in jail; the average fine being about $250-$500 and 5-30 days in jail depending on the offense number (with 5 days being a mandatory minimum). I've never seen a person get more than 3 months for Driving Suspended in my career but that's just me. Also, given the way such things work, you can expect a defendant to serve about half the actual time with good behavior and all that. Again, playing with our statistics I would call this a more or less average day for our community, so we can figure a good 50+ people a week showing up just for continuing to drive without a license.

So here's our dilemma.

On the one hand, we have a group of people who have shown a consistent willingness to flaunt the law. Despite numerous prior encounters for each individual, punishments including incarceration periods and significant fines, and very clear instructions from the courts that they are not permitted to drive, they continue to do so. They are ignoring the dictates of the judicial system, legislature, and society in general in terms of obeying the established rules of behavior. Instead, these people have more or less said "the rules don't apply to me and I'll do what I want despite the potential consequences."

On the other hand. here we have a (in general) victimless crime - none of the people I saw today was there because of an accident or someone else hurt by their driving. In fact, really the only people being hurt by these continued offenses (beyond the court system dealing with it) are the individuals themselves - many are now burdened by hundreds if not thousands in overdue fines and penalties, and have no realistic chance of paying these down or otherwise obtaining valid licenses. And, we live in a country in which the vast majority of places have no real effective public transportation system, thus making driving a necessity in order to work and survive.

What's the solution?

I mean, any one of us would argue that someone convicted of multiple homicides or assaults, someone who had faced numerous DUI convictions or the like, or any other recidivist repeat offender should face strict punishments and harsh penalties for such disregard. That one of the faults with our current society is the lack of consequences for actions, and that we need to be harsher on crime as a whole in order to fix things.

But for this? Is putting someone further into a hole they already can't get out of going to fix anything? Do we really need to be putting people in prolonged jail sentences for simply driving?

So I'd like a discussion - because I don't have an answer. More of the same obviously isn't the answer. And perhaps this can extrapolate into other areas that need fixing.


Phelps said...

Actually, I was somewhat in that hole for a while in my 20s. I drove the majority of my 20s on a suspended license, because of unpaid inspection sticker and no-insurance tickets. Texas' brilliant idea is to add a "surcharge" to get your license unsuspended, even after you've paid the tickets.

So, even if you pay the tickets, unless you pay the $1250 fee (I shit you not, four figures) you can't get your license back. So, the moral of that story is "don't bother paying the ticket, since you're taking the ride either way if you get stopped."

Luckily, I managed to have a decent job at one point, and after getting picked up and the tickets being paid with time served (picked up at 10pm, arraigned at 8am, that's two days served) I was finally able to put $1300+ (have to pay for an SR22 also, don't you know) I was able to get my license back.

So yeah, unless you have literally thousands of dollars sitting around, once you get popped, you're screwed.

The real question is, when you were a kid, did you think "I want to be a tax collector when I grow up?"

lelnet said...

Well, if you've got a drinking problem, you can (and probably should) quit drinking. And certainly if you're killing people, or assaulting them, or robbing them, or breaking into their houses, or...(you get the point), you should definitely quit doing that.

As you note, however, "quit driving" is, in most of the United States including the part of it where you (that is, you personally) apparently live, essentially equivalent to somewhere between "become a ward of the state", and "die of starvation".

I myself am quite familiar with legal situations in which the facts of the matter come down to "your license is suspended now because your license was suspended before, and now there's nothing you can do about it except either periodically get arrested and go to jail, or else move out of state to someplace where you can get a clean record". (In my case, it began with a ticket I got -- and promptly paid -- when I was 18, and a court hearing that I missed because I was never notified of it, and finally ended when I was 30 and moved out of state. My license has been totally fine and legit for a decade now, but I still get all the symptoms of a heart attack every time I see a police car.)

My suggestion? Keep the fines in place, but stop re-suspending people for driving on a suspended license. It doesn't change their behavior...it just makes it impossible to escape from the trap. Let them resolve whatever the original problem was in the first place, and get back to their lives.

Raindog said...

My state only criminalizes driving for vehicular assault, homicide, and repeated drunk driving convictions.

All other suspensions are violations running at $500 to $1200 depending on the jurisdiction. The fines add up. Most suspended drivers end up owing $20,000, if they keep driving.

There is no solution as long as we try to keep an organized society with car insurance attempting to protect drivers.

Old NFO said...

The problem is we're breeding scofflaws... They don't care, they get caught and go right back to driving. What OTHER laws are they ignoring? If it were me, the third charge would get the vehicle confiscated and sold to pay the fines.

Phelps said...

A better question is, how many laws are there that you are objectively better off breaking than trying to comply with?

(Answer: Far, FAR too many.)

Phelps said...

More specifically, your plan to confiscate the vehicle simply encourages people to drive vehicles in other people's names.

Setting aside that you are PLAINLY looking to shred the constitution with unusual punishment (because you will naturally bleat, "take them cars too!", you run the problem of the scofflaws knowing that this is your plan -- and just driving cars which aren't worth as much as the fines (and just happen to be smoke-belching deathtraps that crap on the environment and endanger everyone around them with their unsoundness.)

Gothelittle Rose said...

I would say that it depends on whether the license was suspended for nonpayment and/or nonrenewal, or whether it was suspended for an actual incident of dangerous driving.

I think those two groups should be treated differently.

Phelps said...

The NHTSA has the numbers:


Non-driving reasons -- meaning both things at least tangentially related to cars like unpaid tickets, and things that have nothing at all to do with vehicles (like unpaid child support, truancy, or grafitti) are 38% of the license suspensions.

On top of that, the numbers show that people who are suspended for driving reasons are much more likely to be recidivist on moving violations, and three times as likely to end up in a crash.

Because we have stupid laws written by stupid legislators to pander to stupid constituents, our cops are wasting their time playing tax collector on people who were suspended for no good reason. Every minute that cops waste on this revenue scheme is another minute that they could be using to actually stop dangerous drivers

Captain Tightpants said...

Phelps - your own math doesn't support your last statement. By your statistics that means 68% of these drivers are suspended for dangerous moving offenses, and by your own statements are the ones most likely to reoffend. 2/3 of the offenders being the ones you say are the hazard is the majority any way you do the math...

Phelps said...

You think that it doesn't matter that they are a waste of time as long as they aren't the majority? Your whole argument is kind of a non sequitur.

I am against the cops wasting time dealing with people who have suspended licenses for non-driving reason (because of stupid laws) while there are still lots of dangerous drivers with suspended licenses who are due that attention.