California Traffic Ticket Amensty is coming starting on January 1st, 2012. It sounds great but since it’s a government program you can be sure there are a few catches involved. The general program is statewide and designed to help the state grab some cash quickly which is pretty much the whole idea behind traffic court to begin with. Under the program outstanding fines for failure to appear or failure to pay that have been past due and without payment since 2009 (aka dead money) are eligible for a 50% reduction if paid in full during the six month amnesty period. Individual counties are being given discretion in how to best implement the plan and the freedom to include or eliminate specific offenses. By State law, no DUI charges can be included.
Many online pieces are starting to pop up about the program including one recently from the SF Gate found here. The problem with this article and many just like it, is that it presents a traffic ticket issue as a pure financial problem. How much does it cost me to pay off the ticket?
The real consequences and in fact “costs” associated with that traffic ticket can go well beyond the price you pay at the county clerk’s window or to some collection agency (hello GC Services and Alliance One-nobody likes you).
The “hidden costs” of a traffic ticket situation include several layers of problems. The first hidden cost is the California DMV’s point system. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket that qualifies for amnesty come January 1, 2012 and you pay your ticket for half price, does the conviction trigger points that will hurt your driving record or increase your insurance costs? Should you go to traffic school? Can you go to traffic school? Would you better off fighting the ticket? The second hidden cost is the failure to appear or failure to pay charge. If you pay a “half price” ticket through amnesty, are you admitting guilt to the failure to appear? Will this trigger an increase in insurance rates? Will the failure to appear show up on your record as an infraction? Will it show up on your criminal record with the Department of Justice as a misdemeanor?
What if the ticket you pay at half off doesn’t clear your license? Many people with license holds and suspensions have multiple problems affecting their license. If the clerk tells you “half off fixes this” and you pay it, only to find out that the ticket you paid wasn’t even holding your license but 4 other tickets that don’t qualify for amnesty are holding your license, I bet you won’t feel like the State of California is cutting you a bargain.
In many cases amnesty may do more harm than good. In other cases it may be a great opportunity to resolve old issues and save some money. If you have old tickets or past due fines in collections give us a call to discuss your situation. We can give you a free evaluation and advise what effects the amnesty program will have on your individual case. Then you can make the best decision for you to accomplish your goals in a cost effective manner