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No More Debtor's Prison

No More Debtor's PrisonOne Alabama court will no longer jail motorists who are unable to pay traffic fines.

When 50-year-old Harriet Cleveland was sentenced to 31 days in jail for her inability to pay traffic fines, advocacy groups filed suit. Police had arrested Ms. Cleveland while she was babysitting her infant grandson. The SLPC alleged that Montgomery County had jailed inmates who owed as little as $50 in fines.

As part of the settlement, persons within 125 percent of the federal poverty line will be declared indigent and given the option of paying $25 a month or performing 10 hours of community service for every $100 owed.

If you miss your court date or fail to meet a court's deadline, even if you have a very good reason, a few hundred dollars in fines can quickly become a few thousand dollars in fines. Police departments in Tulare County perform at least one warrant round-up a year: officers seek those with outstanding warrants and can take them to jail or cite them a new court date.

It would be extremely strange for police to take you to jail for a failure to appear that was a misdemeanor, but was based on just an infraction speeding ticket. But for driving without a license, or driving on a suspended license, especially if you have been failing to appear and have had cases start to stack up, the officer might decide to take you in instead of cite you a new court date. Even if the warrant is never executed, the DMV will put a hold on your license so you will be unable to renew it.

Typically, an attorney in Bakersfield can get these warrants lifted and the case back on the trial docket. That one move alone can save you hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars, not to mention the embarrassment and inconvenience of possible jail time. Once the case is before the judge, an attorney may also be able to get the fines and/or the points reduced, so you can get back on the road for much less money than before.