By: Beltz Law Firm
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Dallas Municipal Audit Report – A Dallas Ticket Lawyer’s Perspective
DALLAS MUNICIPAL AUDIT REPORT
A DALLAS TICKET LAWYER’S PERSPECTIVE
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There have been many articles written over the past few years about the problems associated with Dallas Municipal Court. Some of the articles are listed below for a well rounded view of the issues related to Dallas Municipal Court:
Defendants get too many breaks – This without any more provides absolutely no substance to the discussion. As a practicing ticket attorney in virtually every city in the metroplex, Dallas Municipal Court does not give any special treatment that other court’s give with regard to time served in jail, fine payments, and length of time to pay for fines. There are things that can be done illegally to make it harder on Defendants. Perhaps this is why the judges are not doing a good enough job. Many judges like Judge Dana Huffman in Balch Springs will be glad to avoid laws that are there to protect people from judicial abuses to benefit the city they work in. Judicial integrity starts with being unbiased. Remember that we elect and appoint judges for their ability to be fair. Fair does not always benefit the City of Dallas. Fair does not always generate a profit. However, these judges did not swear an oath to the State of Texas to make a profit for the City of Dallas. They swore an oath to protect the constitution and the laws of this great state. This argument is unfounded and holds absolutely no substance in the form of any real measure of successfully “fixing” Dallas Municipal Court.
Too Many Postponed Trials – Postponed trials are cut both ways. Trials can be postponed for a number of different reasons. First, if the Dallas Municipal Prosecutor requests a continuance and properly filed the motion within the allotted amount of time along with a showing of “good cause” then the case has to be reset by law. The standard of proof for a reset is “good cause.” For example, the police officer is on vacation or in training, etc. This standard is also applied to the Defendant. For example, the defendant is in surgery that day or is scheduled to be out of the country prior to the court date. Richardson Municipal Court resolves this issue by denying any motion for continuance that is filed regardless of the reason. No reason is good enough for the defendant. If the defendant fails to appear a warrant will issue. All continuances filed on behalf of the police officer are granted however. Judge Noah in Richardson, Texas has just had the name of the Courthouse renamed after himself. The city counsel loves him. The reason why is because he is so weighted in favor of the City of Richardson that defendants are not even granted the same opportunity of equality and fairness as the police officer who charged them. This system was set up for profit, not for justice. Is this how you would like Dallas Municipal Court to look?
The fines are too low in Dallas Municipal Court – Fines that are paid to any court are broken down into two categories. First you have the court costs. These costs are largely controlled by the legislature. It is the amount that is necessary to collect to provide basic court and administrative services to the public for processing traffic ticket cases. Next, you have the fine. The fine is the punishment that is assessed for the alleged violation. Most traffic offenses have a punishment range of $0 – $200.00. As a traffic ticket lawyer I always get a handful of complaints about the deals we receive in any court (Dallas Municipal Court included). What is hard to grasp is that the judges and prosecutors only have discretion over the fine amount, not the court costs. If you are found guilty or if the case is legally sufficient to proceed to trial court costs are already fixed. The most common offer we get as defense attorneys from prosecutors is a fine amount ranging from $75.00 – $150.00 depending on the case. This does not include the court costs that are going to be added into the final price of the ticket. Basically, the prosecutors are meeting defense attorneys halfway on the fine amount. If the highest fine is $200.00 and the lowest fine is $0.00 then a “reasonable” amount to settle for is $100.00 plus the costs of court. Remember, these are not murderers we are talking about here. These are speeding tickets and registration violations. There is no need to max out the fine on someone who forgot to register their vehicle. They deserved to get punished in a reasonable manner to effectuate justice, not to generate an “unreasonable” profit for the city. There are cities who do this. Euless Municipal Court normally charges around $700.00 for each case that goes into warrant status in their city. It is unconscionable the amount of money they charge per ticket. Many of the clients we get in the City of Euless are struggling just to make it week to week. Get a $700.00 ticket or two and you now find yourself dealing with real hard questions about how to resolve them without ending up in jail. Is this how you would like Dallas Municipal to operate? The financial equation would be so tilted in favor of the city that no real justice would ever be had. It is a black and white issue at that point, with the defendant losing out every time.
Too much credit for time served – Time served is statutory. You don’t get arrested and then get absolutely no credit for having your freedoms taken away from you. Many people have no choice but to go to jail to resolve their citations because they are at the poverty level. The argument here is that judges are being too lenient on the amount of money credit a person gets for going to jail. Most courts across the metroplex allow $100.00 per day of jail time. The remainder can either be paid out or community service can be performed to work off the remaining debt. However, these are for cases where the person went to jail and then they were bonded out by a friend or family member after being arrested. For example, person gets arrested for a $300.00 ticket and 12 hours later is bonded out by their mother. They go back into to court and get $100.00 credit. Now they owe the court $200.00. Sounds reasonable right? However, this is not how Dallas County works. Remember not too long ago that Dallas County Jail was almost shut down because of overcrowding. The whole jail almost closed! It was a mess. The policy of the jail now is to let minor offenses go after a 12 – 24 hour holding period. Scenario: Person gets arrested and wants to stay in jail to do full time served for tickets because they are on welfare. The jail is going to release them whether they like it or not within 24hrs because it is a non-serious offense. Person goes to court and requests time served. If the judge does not grant full time served, they become a financial burden on the jail that almost closed down. If the judge only grants $100.00 credit, they end up back in jail again for the same ticket causing a financial burden on the jail. Claiming that the time served issue is solely on the judges of Dallas Municipal Court is so short sited that the person who wrote the report deserves to get fired for such a myopic view. The conclusion totally misses the real issue the judges are dealing with on a daily basis.
Too little accountability for ignored citations – Brief separation of powers discussion. Enforcement is the executive branch of government. Law making is the legislature. So what does the judicial branch do? They interpret the laws and apply them to the facts. Once applied to the facts they delineate orders for the executive branch to enforce. What part of the government is the police force a member of? The executive branch. I can tell you from experience that if you miss a court date, appearance date, fine payment, or violate any other order issued by a judge in Dallas Municipal Court a warrant will issue for your arrest. The police department is then charged with the responsibility to enforce the order of the court. The judges know that the police force is overworked and underpaid and normally will not arrest a person for a traffic ticket, so they go one step further. Newly passed laws allow for a hold to be put on a person’s driver’s license if they refuse to take care of their citations. This hold cannot be lifted until the cases are dealt with. You ignore a ticket, you lose your driving privileges. Judges are doing this every day for people that choose to ignore their tickets. Then they come hire our office to help them not only get the warrants lifted, but also get their license reinstated and back in good standing with DPS. I don’t know what else they would have the judges do other than suit up in a police uniform and arrest people themselves. They are not charged with enforcing their own orders. The police department has to do a better job of giving them the support they desparately need. However, when this fails, a suspended license is their only other option. This option has worked very well too. Try getting a job without a valid license. Try getting car insurance with a suspended license.
Dallas Municipal City Counsel misses the mark again. You cannot point the finger at someone without having 3 pointing right back at you. The judges are the least of the problem because enforcement is weak and the city counsel has ignored very real software issues for maintaining a clean and efficient docket. The city counsel refuses to update outdated software and then blames the judges for poor routing of officers? You could have Harvard Law School graduates in every seat in Dallas Municipal Court and it would not make a bit of difference. The problem is city wide. As a Dallas traffic ticket lawyer we have a bird’s eye view of the real issues. However, we are never invited in to give input. They see us as part of the problem when we could be a real part of the solution. Based on the report given it is my opinion that no real and substantial changes will occur regardless of the actions taken by the city counsel because they are focused on pointing the finger instead of acknowledging the problem and working with members of the community to resolve it.