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Governor: Back Off on Penalty Assessments

California Governor Jerry Brown recently criticized the increasing "penalty assessments" added on to traffic tickets in Kern County.

In response to the ongoing budget crisis, the state has drastically raised the court costs on speeding tickets. A $300 speeding ticket fine may now include double that amount in penalty assessments and costs. While he agreed with the overall plan, Governor Brown cautioned that there is a point at which the plan backfires, because it becomes cheaper for defendants to spend a day or two in jail rather than pay an exorbitant fine and assessments.

California is not alone: other states facing cash shortfalls have turned to penalty assessments and other nontraditional revenue streams.

In addition to a flat fee, similar to a civil filing fee, California law authorizes proportional penalty assessments for all traffic ticket fines in Lamont and Shafter. The formula is rather complicated, with different monies being earmarked for different purposes. Suffice it to say that the penalty assessments drastically increase the actual amount of money you have to pay to settle a traffic ticket in Tulare County.

Speeding tickets have always been just as much about revenue production as they have been about highway safety. Governor Brown was not indicting the system so much as he was warning officials not to strangle the goose that lays golden eggs: if an unemployed person has a choice between two days in jail or a $700 fine, the jail time becomes an attractive option and the state actually loses money on the deal, due to the incarceration costs.

You can count on an attorney practicing in Bakersfield to lower the fine you are ordered to pay, and perhaps reduce the points as well.