Austin Municipal Court "Warrant Amnesty" : February 9- March 4 2018

Austin Municipal Court Warrant Amnesty: February 9- March 4, 2018

 

We have come a long way in Austin in a very short time.  That is not to say that there is still not a great deal of progress to be made, but the work of several organizations and a progressive city government to reform how the criminal justice system treats poor people is paying off.

 

From what I can tell, Austin Municipal Court is no longer participating in the Great Texas Warrant RoundUp!! This is absolutely a step in the right direction for equity in justice.  The Warrant Roundup without a doubt unjustly targets poor people. 

 

What AMC is doing instead is what they are calling a “Warrant Amnesty”.  This is going on from February 9-March 4 2018.  What is interesting is that the City is calling this period an Amnesty – but it is absolutely true that you can walk into AMC or a substation at any time, 365 days (not including weekends or city holidays) and take care of warrants without being arrested.  I believe calling this time an amnesty is just to highlight what the court already does.  They are doing some community meetings too where you can discuss your case with judges and court staff.  Learn more about that here: http://www.austintexas.gov/article/warrant-amnesty-2018

 

HOWEVER!! You still need to understand what you are doing when you go “take care of” a warrant out of AMC during the Amnesty period.  Please read the following before you go:

 

I.                     Failure to Appear:  “Open” Tickets

 

You may have an “open ticket” (or more than one) in Austin Municipal Court.  If you receive a Class C ticket, and you fail to appear and it remains open, meaning no action has been taken since the issuance of the citation, in Austin a warrant will issue.  However, a great thing about AMC is that this court does not typically also charge defendants with a further Class C offense of Failure to Appear. You can be taken to jail on these “open ticket” warrants.  What happens when you are arrested for these kinds of warrants depends on the jurisdiction.  For an Austin Municipal Court ticket, you may be given the option of pleading guilty at magistration at the jail and agreeing to pay the ticket, or you may be given a court date if you plead not guilty and told to appear in Austin Municipal Court.

 

If you have Class C tickets that are “open”, there are several options on how to dispose of those and get the warrants cleared.  Some are better than others.  Here are some of them:

 

1)      You can always plead no contest and agree to pay.  During the Amnesty, and any other time, you can go to AMC or a substation and take care of it by paying it. There are drawbacks to this option of which you should be aware.  Simply telling a court staffer you want to plead guilty and pay the ticket waives any chance you have at negotiating the fine down with a court prosecutor.  You will pay the full amount plus some extra court costs for letting it go to warrant.  Secondly, depending on the charge, there may be collateral consequences for pleading no contest.  Pleading no contest to driving while license invalid, no drivers license, or failure to maintain financial responsibility where you already have one conviction could trigger a license suspension and will cause surcharges on your license to be assessed. If you did not have an eligible driver’s license at the time you got a moving violation, and you pay it, this could trigger a DPS departmental suspension of your license because you are admitting by paying the ticket and pleading no contest that you were driving without a license. 

 

The court is also now allowing defendants who can show they are indigent to file what’s called a “hardship” waiver.  This will ask the court to waive the fines and fees on the ticket. This could be a good option for cases that don’t carry collateral consequences if you just plead no contest and pay. 

 

If the court allows you, you can ask to speak with the judge or a prosecutor at walk-in docket.  At that point, you can ask for what’s called a “DEFERRED DISPOSITION”.  This allows you to avoid pleading guilty and being convicted of the offense --- which allows you TO AVOID COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES.  A deferral basically puts you under an unsupervised “probation” with the court where you promise not to get any new tickets for a period of time and pay the deferral fee.  You may also have to do driver’s safety course or some other kind of obligation (classes, community services, get a good license, get insurance, etc).  This keeps moving violations off your record (no points will be assessed), and for offenses that carry them, you can avoid license suspensions and surcharges.

 

2)      You can post bond with the court and put your case back on the docket.  This will allow you to speak with the prosecutors at a court date and negotiate to pay less and potentially keep it off your record, avoiding any collateral consequences that could come with a conviction. This may be an expensive undertaking as bond in some courts can be double the fine.

 

3)      You can hire an attorney to designate on your cases and put them back on the docket.  Usually this is done by sending a letter to the court in which the attorney says s/he’s going to be responsible for the case.  Once this happens, the warrant will be rescinded, and the attorney will appear in court for you, speak with the prosecutor in that court, and get a deal worked out for you.  Many times this deal will allow you to keep a conviction for the Class C off your record and will be cheaper to resolve than just simply paying the ticket. I am available to do this work across the state of Texas.

 

II.                   Commitment Warrants – Satisfying the Judgment

 

If you have a Class C warrant out in Austin Municipal Court and there has been a judgment -- ie, you have pled no contest or been convicted at trial – you have to pay or otherwise satisfy that judgment. If you do not, a “commitment” will issue.  This is a kind of warrant.  At that point the ticket is no longer “open”.  It is in “commitment” status.  That means you cannot change your mind under most circumstances and change what you agreed to pay or even that you agreed to pay.  Its done; you simply have to fulfill your obligation as agreed.

 

If you’ve already pled on your citation and have agreed to pay, but you cannot, you can sometimes go back to the court and ask to be put on a payment plan for an amount you can pay per month.  Often times this agreement will be enough for the court to rescind the warrant.  In some circumstances, you can ask the court to find you indigent and allow you to do community service at a non profit, non religious, non political charitable organization or you can ask for a HARDSHIP WAIVER.  If you are asking for a court to find you indigent, it is important to bring documentation to support your claim you are indigent.  Tax returns, pay stubs, or proof that you receive government assistance can help prove to the court that you are indigent. You can also get jail credit applied to these tickets if you have been to jail while these warrants were active – even if it is was not holding you or you were not arrested on these warrants specifically.  How much credit a day in jail will give you depends on the court.

 

Although Austin Municipal has made a very progressive change and is not participating in the Warrant Roundup, if you are walking/driving around Austin with Class C warrants out, you can still be taken to jail for these by APD if it is discovered (sometimes this happens during traffic stops, for example).  It is easier by far to take care of warrants prior to something like this which is usually a very inconvenient time to find out.   Don’t wait for that to happen. If you would like to speak with me regarding your Class C warrants, I am happy to do a free phone consultation to run down what your options are. 

 

ALSO PLEASE NOTE: Just because AMC is not doing Warrant RoundUp, some of the Constables Offices in Travis County ARE AND other jurisdictions are and can sometimes contract with a Travis County Constables Office to come get you (lots of the little jurisdictions in Williamson County, for example (think Thorndale, Taylor, Hutto, etc) do this).  Warrant RoundUp is still a huge thing in this state and you may not be completely safe just because AMC is not doing it. 

 

 

 

 

The Texas "Surcharge" Program: Time for the Legislature to Abolish It

Drivers Responsibility Program:  Time for the Legislature to Abolish It

 

On January 30, 2018, the Texas Legislature’s Senate Finance Committee had a hearing on Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program, known as the “Surcharge Program”.  Senator John Whitmire very eloquently reminded the Committee’s members that they are “blessed” and that they can’t lose sight of the millions of Texans who live “day to day”.  I cannot emphasize enough how true this is.

 

The DRP, or “surcharge program”, has had devastating consequences to poor and lower income Texans. 

 

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has found that due to the surcharge program:

 

·         There are 1.3 million Texans driving on a suspended license because of surcharges.  These Texans have a harder time insuring their vehicles and when they get in accidents the other driver is left with no possibility of recovery for the damages. 

 

·         More than 50% of the Texans with suspended licenses have lost jobs or been denied jobs because of their suspended licenses, which hurts our state’s tax base and hurts their families.

 

·         Texas counties are left paying for enforcement of Driving While License Invalid cases – in some counties 1 in 5 misdemeanor cases are DWLI.  This costs all of us.

 

This is just some of the reasons why this program needs to be abolished.  It is a regressive tax on the poorest Texans.  It is a consequence assumed when unsophisticated Texans just “pay” a ticket for Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility or DWLI instead of asking for a deferral.  It is a second penalty when people have already paid the fine allowed under the law.  It is fundamentally unfair and unjust.

 

Let’s put some pressure on the Texas Legislature to abolish this essentially regressive tax on the people who can least afford it – one that brings with it a whole set of economic consequences that are costing us all.

What is an SR-22?

What is an SR-22?

 

Lots of my clients have to get an SR-22.  I will briefly explain what that is here.

 

An SR-22 is a high-risk, high-liability insurance policy that is required when one does not have a valid Texas driver’s license.  If you are driving with an occupational license, you are required to keep an SR-22.  Also, if you don’t have a driver’s license and cannot get one due to the inability to prove residency, an SR-22 may be the only kind of insurance policy you can get. 

 

An SR-22 is a liability insurance policy, which means it will cover other drivers who have damages due to your causation of an accident. 

 

What makes it different, and why it is required if you have an occupational, is that it is a liability insurance policy the state monitors very closely.  If you do not pay your premium, and you fall out of coverage, the insurance company is required to call DPS and make sure they know that you do not have insurance. 

 

If you are driving on an occupational, the validity of your occupational is directly dependent on having an SR-22.  If you do not stay current on your SR-22 while you have an occupational, if you are pulled over and asked for your license, the police will know that YOUR OCCUPATIONAL IS INVALID.  Although you can still show proof of your occupational, you will still likely be cited for Driving While License Invalid because you do not have a valid occupational.

 

If you’ve had more than two convictions for failure to maintain financial responsibility, you will be required to get an SR-22 for two years.  You will not have to get an occupational; you will be allowed to keep your regular license.  However, if you cancel or fall out of coverage with your SR-22, your license will be automatically suspended. 

 

What does this mean?:

 

If you are required to get an SR-22, YOU HAVE TO KEEP PAYING ON IT UNTIL YOU DO NOT NEED IT ANY LONGER.  Getting it for one month and then letting your coverage lapse is not going to work.  Your license, whether an occupational or a regular license, will not be valid if you let your SR-22 lapse.

 

If you are looking to get an SR-22, call a small, mom-and-popprovider.  Do not go through your regular provider, especially if you go through a large carrier.  It will be more expensive, for one, and second your rates will go up if your regular carrier knows you need an SR-22.

Reposting: Go to Court: The Consequences of Failing to Appear on Class C Misdemeanors

It is common in my work to come across clients who have outstanding warrants on Class C misdemeanors. Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level of misdemeanors in Texas; they are punishable by fine only and not jail. They include minor criminal offenses like Public Intoxication and Possession of Drug Paraphrenalia and all traffic offenses like speeding and failure to yeild right of way.

When you receive a citation or “ticket” for a Class C misdemeanor, you will get a court date on that citation for when you should either appear or contact the court and ask for options on how to resolve the case. If you wish to speak with a prosecutor about the case, which is a better option often times than simply pleading no contest and paying the fine, as I have explained elsewhere, you will get another court date on which to appear.

If you do not appear or make arrangements with the court to reolve the matter, there will be consequences that can adversely affect your life.

First, you will be charged with a second Class C misdmeanor of “Failure to Appear”. This is a negative consequence as it will be yet another citation you will have to resolve with the court. It may cost you more money as you may have to pay an additional fine.

Second, warrants will be issued for your arrest. If you ever have an encounter with law enforcement in that jurisdiction, you may be arrested on these warrants even though they are Class C misdemeanors. You may spend some time in jail on these charges even though they are not punishable by jail time. You may eventually be released with a court date or you may be ordered to “sit out” the fines if you plead guilty at magistration.

Now, these are the most obvious of the consequences. There are more that are far more obscure and less publicized and may surprise you.

If these tickets – both the original citation and the failure to appear – are entered in the OMNI database, you will be refused the ability to renew your driver’s license and register your vehicle, which could lead to more criminal citations like DWLI and expired registration. You will have to resolve these citations before you are allowed to renew your driver’s license and registation.

Resolving these citations may be more difficult if they get “old”. Fees, such as collection fees, may drive up what you owe. You will also be charged warrant and OMNI fees -- $50 warrant fee and $30 OMNI fee per ticket for a total of $80 – that must be paid when the tickets are resolved. You will often not be allowed to negotiate the fines and fees if the tickets are “old” and are in the OMNI database and/or are in collections. You will not be allowed a deferral. You will have to pay the amounts in full. The only way around this is to hire an attorney to post bonds and get these cases back on the docket, which will cost you money. 
It may seem like it is the best solution to just ignore your citations. You may feel like you don’t have the money to take care of them or the time. However, avoidance of the citations will lead to the situation getting much worse. If you cannot afford to pay a citation, you can perhaps ask for community service in leiu of payment. Don’t just put your head in the sand and expect the ctiations to go away – they won’t.

If you are struggling with outstanding warrants on Class C violations, OMNI holds, and the like, I am here to help. I can usually save clients money and time, and get them out of the morass of unpaid tickets. But what is even better is to take care of ctiations in a timely manner so you don’t need someone like me to fix it after it’s become an unsolvable problem.

Austin Municipal Court: The Difference Between "Commitments" and "Warrants"

Austin Municipal Court:  The Difference Between “Commitment” and “Warrant”

 

I get many, many calls about fixing tickets entered into the “Failure to Appear” database, formally called the OMNI database, because these tickets will inevitably jeopardize a person’s ability to drive legally in Texas.  Tickets entered into the database will not suspend your driving privileges, but it will keep you from renewing your license if you have one or prevent you from getting a regular license if you have not yet tested and been licensed. 

 

I will talk about Austin Municipal Court here, but the advice is generally applicable to all Class C tickets in the OMNI database. 

 

If you have tickets in OMNI from Austin Municipal Court, you should search for your ticket at www.austintexas.gov/department/municipal-court.  Look at what it says next to the ticket.  If it says “commitment”, it means you have already entered a plea on the ticket of “no contest”, been convicted, and have agreed to pay it. 

 

The problem with this is that in most cases, it is very difficult to re-negotiate an outcome on the case.  You are in most instances stuck with what you agreed upon and you are going to have to pay it before it gets taken out of OMNI.  If the conviction came with surcharges or a driver’s license suspension, you are probably stuck with it. 

 

A lawyer can do very little on these tickets except perhaps file a writ (that is extraordinary and you should not count on it being done or it being successful). Hiring a lawyer may really be a waste of resources.  What you should do is go down to the “walk in” or mitigation docket from 8 am to 11 am or 1pm to 3 pm at Austin Municipal Court and speak to the judge about a manageable payment plan. 

 

Other courts outside of City of Austin may not call these “commitments” but the outcome is the same – if you agreed to pay, you got convicted, and it’s a done deal.  To get them out of OMNI you have to pay.  Sometimes in small jurisdictions, where the procedures are not as tight, the judge may directly renegotiate with you but this is just a random occurrence that you should not count on. 

 

If your tickets say “warrant” next to them, there is more hope.  A “warrant” means that you never entered a plea and you can still avoid a conviction.  Do not go running down to the court and agree to pay.  Either hire an attorney to take over, or go down to court and ask to speak with the prosecutor.  You may not be allowed to do this without posting bond due to missing your first court date, but a judge may allow you to see a prosecutor.  It’s just going to depend on who is on the bench.  I have also seen judges offer deferred disposition at the walk -in docket.  However, in Austin, the ticket will need to be disposed of AND paid, if anything is owed, before it is taken out of OMNI.

 

So, to sum up, there are two ways things can end up in OMNI – either you agreed to pay and didn’t, which limits what you can do to get it out of OMNI, or you just never showed up and you have never entered a plea.  The second is much better and helps you avoid a multitude of collateral consequences.

The Texas Legislature Should Abolish the Drivers Responsibility Program

Drivers Responsibility Program:  Time for the Legislature to Abolish It

 

I would like to take a moment to ask everyone reading this to make a call to their Texas House representative to ask s/he to support House Bill 67, which would abolish the Drivers Responsibility Program, also known as the surcharge program. 

 

This bill has had devastating consequences to poor and lower income Texans. 

 

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has found that the surcharge program has had the following consequences on Texans:

 

·         There are 1.3 million Texans driving on a suspended license because of surcharges.  These Texans have a harder time insuring their vehicles and when they get in accidents the other driver is left with no possibility of recovery for the damages. 

·         More than 50% of the Texans with suspended licenses have lost jobs or been denied jobs because of their suspended licenses, which hurts our state’s tax base and hurts their families.

·         Texas counties are left paying for enforcement of Driving While License Invalid cases – in some counties 1 in 5 misdemeanor cases are DWLI.  This costs all of us.

 

This is just some of the reasons why this program needs to be abolished.  It is a regressive tax on the poorest Texans.  It is a consequence assumed when unsophisticated Texans just “pay” a ticket for Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility or DWLI instead of asking for a deferral.  It is a second penalty when people have already paid the fine allowed under the law.  It is fundamentally unfair and unjust.

 

Lets put some pressure on the Texas Legislature to abolish this essentially regressive tax on the people who can least afford it – one that brings with it a whole set of economic consequences. 

License Suspensions for Drug Convictions

Driver’s License Suspension for Drug Convictions

Texas Transportation Code Section 521 governs Texas driver’s licenses. It is available online on several different sites for everyone to read. It governs suspensions as well as regulates how and when licenses are issued.

The Texas Legislature has amended Section 521 to include a suspension of a Texas driver’s license for all drug convictions. This can include all manufacturing and delivering convictions, all possession convictions including marijuana convictions, and possession of drug paraphernalia convictions. If you receive a conviction for any drug charge, your driver’s license is going to be suspended by DPS for 180 days (6 months).

If you do not have a license, your privileges are still going to be suspended and you will be denied issuance of a license for 180 days.

You are usually eligible for an occupational license duing this time to continue to drive for work and other necessary tasks.

If you receive a drug conviction in another state, and it is reported to Texas DPS, you will receive a 180 suspension. It does not matter that it was not a Texas conviction.

You will only be suspended if you are convicted of the drug charge. If your case is dismissed, if the charge is amended to a non drug charge, or if you receive deferred adjudication you will not be suspended.

If you are convicted of an “attempted” drug charge, such as a Class A misdemeanor attempted negotiated down from a felony possession charge, you may or may not be suspended. If it is reported by the Clerk under the statute that governs attempted drug charges, you will be suspended. If it is reported under the statute that governs general attempted crimes, which is under the Penal Code instead of the Health and Safety Code, you may not receive a suspension. Your laywer does not control how it is reported and this cannot be negotiated with the prosecution. You will need to check with DPS in a few weeks or a month to discover if you have received a suspension.

In order to get your license back after the 180 days have run, you will be required to get take a Texas certified 15 hour drug offender education class. You can take that class as early as the conviction is entered, but the 180 days will still have to run before you can get your license back. Even after the 180 days has run, if you have not taken the class, you will not be allowed to reinstate your license until you do.

Travis County Counseling and Education Services (https://www.traviscountytx.gov/counseling-education) offers one of these classes. You will need a referral form, which you can get online or from your lawyer in court. You do not need the assessment unless told otherwise. You can simply sign up for the 15 hour class. It will cost $80. If you cannot afford it, you can ask your lawyer to ask the judge to waive the counseling and education services fee with an order. You will need to take this order and the referral form with you to enroll in the class. The judge may inquire as to your income before s/he signs the order to determine if you are entitled to it. This order will only be accepted bythe county. It will not be accepted by a private entity licensed to administer the classes. An online class may be acceptable as long as it is certified.

You will have to pay a reinstatement fee of $100 to get the license back. That can be paid during or after the 180 days, but you will not be eligible to drive until it is. If you get an occupational, you will have to pay the reinstatement to get the occupational processed and issued by DPS.

You will not get a surcharge assessed for a drug conviction.

I often encounter clients who do not want to or feel they cannot take the 15 hour class in exchange for a dismissal of a marijuana or other misdemeanor drug charge. I think it is far better to take the class in exchange for a dismissal, which keeps your criminal history clear, than having to take it afterward to get your license back. You have to take the class either way, and doing it prior to the conviction may help keep the conviction off your record. If your lawyer asks you to do the class, the best thing to do is listen to your lawyer and take the class.

Surcharge Waiver Program

Surcharges and the Indigency/Incentive Program

You may be struggling with surcharges on your license assessed by the Department of Public Safety under the Driver Responsibility Program. If you cannot pay these surcharges, you should consider applying for the Indigency or Incentive programs under which surcharges can be waived.

The Indigency Program is a program created by the Texas Legislature that allows surcharges to be reduced to as low as zero based on a person’s income. It is available for people who earn up to 125% of the federal poverty standard as defined annually by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Your family size and number of dependents will be taken into consideration when determining if you meet the standards.

The Incentive Program is also a program based on income. It is available for people who earn more than 125% of the federal poverty standard and up to 300% of the federal poverty standard. Under this program your surcharges will be reduced. You will be obligated to pay the lower balance in six months and during this time you will be put in forebearance and your surcharge suspension will be lifted.

To apply for these programs, you should go to the following website:https://www.txsurchargeonline.com/indigence.aspx. You can print out the applicaton. You should fill it out and sign it and have it notorized by a Notary Public. You will have to provide proof of the income you are claiming you have, such as an income tax return, pay stubs, or a social security award letter. If you do not provide proof of income, your application will not be processed and the surcharge suspensions will not be lifted.

You should make sure your address is current with Municipal Services Bureau, the private company who administers collections of surcharges, before or concurrent to filling out your surcharge waiver programs. Otherwise, mail asking for additional information or even letting you know that you have been approved for the program will be sent to the wrong address. You can fax a change of address to MSB at 1-800-232-6409. If you are not receiving your surcharge notices in the mail, that is a good sign your address with MSB is not current and you should do something to change it.

I as always am happy to answer any questions about surcharges, the waiver programs, and the application process.

Surcharges: What are they and what can you do?

If you are struggling with surcharges, the following may be able to help:

The Texas Driver’s Responsibility Program: What You Need to Know

I. Overview

One reason your driving privileges may be suspended is because of unpaid surchages.

The Texas Legislature created the Drivers Responsibility Program in 2003. This authorized DPS to assess surcharges on Texans’ driver’s licenses for certain convictions or for a certain number of points on the license. Once this surcharge is assessed, it must be paid in order for the driver to retain his driving privileges. It was thought at the time that this program would do two things: 1) incentivize good driving and decrease traffic accidents, and 2) raise money to fund trauma centers across the state. Ninety-nine percent of the money raised goes to the Texas Trauma Center fund and the General Revenue fund. One percent goes to DPS to administer the program. The money raised through the surcharge collection has fallen short of what the Legislature anticipated and the program has drawn a high level of criticism. There have been efforts by policy groups to abolish the program, but these have failed to get traction in the Texas House.

Surcharges are assessed by DPS when a driver either has a conviction for an offense reported to DPS by a court in which the conviction was entered or when a driver is assessed six points or more on their license.

II. Types of Surcharges

A. Convictions-based

There are three offenses for which a conviction reported to DPS will cause a surcharge to be assessed. These are Driving While Intoxicated, Driving while License Invalid, and Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility. These offenses must have taken place after September 1, 2003. If a driver is convicted of one of these offenses after September 1, 2003 but the offense took place prior to September 1, 2003 no surcharges should be assessed.

1) Driving While Intoxicated: If a driver is either found guilty at trial or pleads guilty to DWI, the court will report this to DPS and a surcharge will be assessed on the driver’s license. This surcharge is $1000 per year for three years if the DWI was a first conviction for DWI and the alcohol testing result, if any, was was below .15 (g/210L). This surcharge is also assessed for first time convictions for intoxication assault or manslaughter. The surcharge is $1500 per year for three years if it is a 2nd or more DWI or intoxication offense such as intoxication assault or manslaughter. It is $2000 a year for three years if a conviction for DWI or intoxication assault or manslaughter and the blood alochol result was .16 or greater.

2) Driving While License Invalid: If a driver is convicted of driving while license invalid/suspended/revoked the surcharge is $250 a year for three years. This applies to Class C misdemeanor convictions as well, so for example if a driver receives a ticket for DWLI and pays the fine, thereby entering a plea of no contest, a surcharge will be assessed once this is reported to DPS.

For convictions of DWLI where the driver has no license or a commercial license or where the license is expired, or where a person is convicted of driving with an endorsement violation (driving without eyeglasses where they are required by DPS, for example), the surcharge is $100 a year for three years.

3) Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility: When a driver is convicted of failure to maintain financial responsibility, the surcharge is $250 a year for three years. This conviction may also carry a license suspension if it is not the first conviction on the driver’s record. This suspension may be rescinded if the driver provides proof to DPS that he or she had insurance at the time of the alleged offense, but even if that proof is provided, the surcharge will not be waived.

These surcharges will be applied if a Texas driver receives a conviction for one of these three things out of state.

These surcharges will always be assessed for these convictions regardless of the driver’s eligibility to drive or even his possession of a driver’s license. Even if a driver has never been licensed in any state, DPS will still assess these surcharges and the driver will have to pay them in order to ever gain possession of eligibility to drive legally and test for a driver’s license.

B. Points-based

DPS will add “points” to a person’s driving record for each moving violation of which a driver is convicted. A moving violation is a traffic violation in which driving is involved, such as failure to stop at a stop sign or speeding. Things like expired registration do not count as moving violations.

For every moving violation, in Texas or out of state that is reported to DPS two points is added. For every moving violation in which there is a crash related to the violation, three points is added.

For every six points a driver receives, DPS assesses a surcharge of $100 every year the point total is six. For every point over that, DPS adds $25 dollars in surcharge every year.

III. Administration of the Program

DPS contracts with a private entity called the Municipal Services Bureau to collect the surcharges and manage the accompanying Indigency/Incentive Programs. The entity has a website where information about a driver’s surcharge accounty can be found: txsurchargeonline.com.

Surcharge notices are mailed to the last known address DPS had for the driver. If a driver is not receiving his or her notices, it is most likely because the address used by MSB is out of date.

MSB is also known to call drivers to collect surcharges.

Surcharges are assessed every year for three years and then broken down into monthly installments plus a $2.50 service fee per month. A driver must pay the monthly installment each month. Failure to do so will trigges a suspension of the license until the drive is current on the payments again.

There is no time-triggered forgiveness. A surcharge assessed in 2004 willn ot be forgiven at any point unless a driver applies for the Indigency or Incentive Program.

IV. Indigency and Incentive Program

A driver who meets certain income-based criteria may apply to have some or all of his surcharges waived. These programs can only be used to reduce surcharges billed on or after September 1, 2011.

A. The Indigency Program

For drivers earning 125% or less of the federal poverty level, surcharges can be reduced so that the amount owed no less than 10% of that originally owed. The total can be no more than $250. The driver is then put in forbearance for 6 months and the driving privileges, barring any other reasons for suspension or any other bar to renewal, will be restored during that period.

Drivers will be required to provide proof of income when applying for the Program. This can be pay stubs, income tax returns, or proof of receipt of income based government benefits such as Food Stamps or TANF. It is very important that the driver’s address is up to date with DPS and MSB, as any correspondence regarding the driver’s application for the Program will be sent to the last known address, including requests for further documentation of income.

B. The Incentive Program

For drivers earning between 126% and 300% of the federal poverty level, surcharges can be reduced to 50% of the amount owed. As with the Indigency Program, the amount owed will be put in forebearnce for 6 months, and barring any other reasons for suspension or denial of renewal, driving privileges will be restored during that period.

V. Surcharge Waiver Orders

The only way to get surcharges completely waived is for the judge presiding at the time of the conviction to sign an order telling DPS to waive the surcharges that would normally be assessed.

This can only be done on motion of the defendant’s attorney. In the motion, the attorney must allege and provide proof that the defendant is indigent and only makes up to 125% of the federal income level. Providing proof of receipt of benefit of governement benefits is one way to prove up the client’s indigency.

In Travis County, it is very common for judges to sign these orders if the defendant has a court appointed defense attorney, as the judges deem these clients to have already proved up indigency.

VI. Conclusion

Surcharges can be a huge burden on the driver with an average income. It is important that if you are accused of a crime that carries a surcharge, it is important you consult with an attorney who can structure the result in the case so that a surcharge can be avoided. There may be ways to get a case dismissed or a conviction on the case deferred, either of which will allow the driver to avoid any surcharge on that case. If you are a driver who has wracked up many moving violation convictions on your driving record, it may be important to seek representation in order to avoid any further convictions if you are charged with a moving violation again so that you do not hit the point limit and have a surcharge assessed.

I am happy to talk to anyone charged with a crime that carries a surcharge or is close to hitting the six point limit. I am also available to guide clients through their applications for the Indigency and Incentive Programs as part of a package to help ineligible drivers get back into eligibile status.

Common Driver's License Problems

I am a criminal defense lawyer in Austin TX.  That means I defend clients in Central Texas and throughout the state accused of a broad spectrum of crimes from Class C tickets all the way to serious misdemeanors.  One of my biggest passions and joys is restoring my clients’ driving privileges in the state of Texas.  I am good at it and I love doing it.  If you have been struggling with getting back behind the wheel legally - if you have been stuck in a cycle of surcharges, charges of driving while license invalid (DWLI), suspensions, and failure to appears - and you don’t know what to do to get your driving privileges straightened out and get your license back, you have found the right lawyer.  I do not stop until you get legal and this unfair, unjust punitive cycle  keeping you down is fixed.

 

There are many, many things that can cause you to lose your driver’s license in Texas.  In my practice, I unravel this tangle of issues and prevent any further ones from arising.

 

Here’s some examples of what I can do:

 

Certain convictions, like for DWLI and DWI, carry mandatory suspensions.  They also trigger a surcharge assessment, which is a fee you have to pay to DPS to keep your license.  Even after the mandatory suspension is up, you have to stay current on your surcharge payments to keep driving legally until the surcharge is fully paid.  If you are under a mandatory suspension, I can often get you an occupational license to keep you driving until the suspension is up.  If you cannot afford the surcharges, I can assist you in applying for a waiver to reduce or eliminate your payments based on your income. 

 

Failure to appears entered into the OMNI database will not suspend your license if it is current, but they will block you from renewing your license once you expire.  Driving on an expired license does carry criminal penalties and you can be charged with and possibly arrested for DWLI.  If you have entries in the OMNI database anywhere in Texas, I will track these down.  If they are “open” tickets and you have never pled, I will represent you in these cases and do everything I can to get a disposition that does not result in any further suspensions or surcharges.  If they are in commitment/capias status because you have already pled and agreed to pay, I will work to get you on a better payment plan so you can close the case and get it out of OMNI. 

 

If you are currently charged with DWLI in Central Texas, I will represent you on that case and work to get your driving privileges restored as part of that representation.  Often times, if you get your driving privileges restored, I can get a result worked out that will allow you to avoid a conviction for the DWLI – which will prevent a further suspension and surcharges. 

 

If you have pending tickets and do not have eligibility to drive, you need to call me before you do anything on those tickets.  Paying a moving violation – ie a ticket you got for violating a traffic law while driving – is automatically a plea of no contest.  This is an admisssion of driving, and DPS will move to suspend your license for an admission of driving without a legal license.  If you do not have a good license, this will prevent you from getting a good license.  Its not good, however easy it is, to just “pay the ticket”. As your lawyer on the ticket, I will work to get a disposition on the ticket that does not include a final conviction, protecting your ability to get a good license.

 

If you’ve never had a license, you can indeed be charged for driving while license invalid (DWLI) for driving.  DWLI emcompasses driving when you’ve never tested and gotten a license.  You can be placed under suspension, assessed surcharges, and denied your ability to test for a license for offenses that happen when you’ve never had a license before.  If you want to get a good license, and you have things preventing you from testing, I can work on these problems just as I could if you had a regular license.

 

Lastly, if you have a hearing pending with DPS in front of a judge, either a JP or Municipal Court judge, in which DPS is moving to suspend your license or revoke your license for medical reasons, you need to call me.  There may be ways to keep DPS from being successful in that motion. 

 

If the problems I’m describing sound familiar, you need to call me.  I will do a free consultation to go over the problems you are facing and develop a plan to eliminate them one by one.  There is a way out of this cycle – and I’m the lawyer to get you back behind the wheel with no fear of further arrest. 

 

 

 

 

 

Occupational License and Order to Test

Occupational License versus an Order to Test for an Occupational License

 

 

If you’ve never had a regular Texas driver’s license, your driving privileges can still be suspended pursuant to the rules that govern the ability to drive in Texas.  Your driving priviliges can be suspended for convictions for DWI and drug possession, for example.  You can still be assessed surcharges and reinstatement fees.  What does this mean if you do not have a driver’s license?  It means not only can’t you drive, but you also cannot be issued a regular Texas driver’s license until you get your ineligibility rectified.  If you are caught driving, you can still be charged with driving while license suspended/invalid.

 

If you are under a mandatory suspension or cannot rectify your ineligiblities, you cannot get a regular license by a simply walking into a DPS field office and taking a test.  First, in order to drive, you are going to need to apply for Texas occupational license.  However, it is more complicated to get an occupational if you’ve never had a license because you cannot be issued a hard plastic permanant occupational without taking the test first.

 

Therefore, you still need to go through the process of petitioning the court for an occupational.  You need to file the petition and get the order signed by a judge allowing you to drive.  Then you need to send the order to DPS with your SR-22, your reinstatement fees, and your occupational fees.  Instead, however, of getting an occupational back with your picture on it, you will get an order back telling the field office to allow you to test for an occupational license.  This is because you’ve never taken the test before.  You will have to pass that and all other residency requirements and such, and then you will be issued an occupational license until you become eligible for a regular license. 

 

When you become eligible for a regular license, you will simply be able to walk into a field office and get a regular replacement for your occupational.  You will not have to pass the test again. 

 

I am available to craft occupational licenses and submit them to the court for signature.  If you believe you need an occupational, give me a call.  I’m happy to help. 

 

 

Failure to Appears in OMNI Database

If you are struggling with failure to appear entries that prevent you from renewing your license, you may find the following helpful:

The Texas OmniBase Program: What You Need to Know

I. Overview

Texas Transportation Code Chapter 706 authorizes the Department of Public Safety to create the Texas OmniBase.

If a receipient of a Class C ticket fails to appear in court on that ticket as ordered, or if a he/she enters a plea on a ticket, agrees to pay a certain amount, and fails to satisfy that judgment, the court may have the ability to enter that failure into the Texas OmniBase.

If a driver has an entry in the OmniBase, that driver will not be able to renew his driver’s license once it expires. If the driver is not yet licensed, he will not be able to get a regular driver’s license until the entry is cleared. He will be obligated to take action on that ticket in order to get it cleared from the OmniBase so that he can renew or test for a license.

If a driver has an entry in the OmniBase, his license will not be suspended. Instead, the driver will only be blocked from renewing or testing until the entries in the OmniBase are cleared. That means that he will not be charged a reinstatement fee by DPS in order to renew his license once the entries in the OmniBase are cleared.

II. Entries in the OmniBase

In order for a court to enter failures to appear and failures to satisfy judgments in the OmniBase, the “political subdivision” – ie, the county or the city in which the court has jurisdiction – must have a contract with DPS to do so. The political subdivision will have to pay a certain fee to DPS to have this contract. There is an incentive for political subdivisions to have this contract as it provides them some leverage on drivers to take care of open citations in their courts and thereby collect revenue generated by those citations.

If a driver receives a ticket in a jurisdiction that has a contract with DPS, that court can report a failure to appear or a failure to pay as agreed to DPS. Once that entry is made, the driver will not be able to renew his driver’s license through DPS until one of several things happens to that ticket. If the driver failed to appear and has never entered a plea, then the driver must either a) be acquitted on the ticket at trial, b) get the ticket dismissed by the prosecutor in the court, or c) enter a plea and pay the judgment on the ticket of fine and court costs. If the driver has entered a plea and failed to satisfy the judgment, then the driver must a) perfect the appeal of the judgment or b) satisfy the judgment.

In some jurisdictions, if a driver has an open ticket on which he has never entered a plea, the court may require the driver to post a bond – either cash or surety – to get that ticket back on the docket so that the driver can negotiate a plea deal on the case. An attorney may be able to help a driver post a surety bond. Some courts will withdraw the entry in the OmniBase once a bond is posted with payment of the OmniBase fee; some will not.

The statute also requires DPS to clear OmniBase entries if they are in error or if the record of the ticket has been destroyed by the courts.

III. Administrative Fee

The statute requires drivers who have an entry in the OmniBase to pay a $30 administrative fee to get the entry cleared from the OmniBase. This is in addition to the actions the driver must take to close out the ticket. The only time this does not have to be paid is when the driver is acquitted at trial of the underlying offense that is the basis of the ticket.

If the driver takes action to resolve the ticket entered into the OmniBase, that driver will still be denied renewal until the $30 administrative fee is paid.

The administrative fee is collected by the court that has jurisdiction over the ticket and is deposited in the political subdivision’s treasury. The political subdivision is allowed to deposit the fee in an interest bearing account and is entitled to keep that interest. After it is collected, $20 is sent to the Texas state comptroller and $10 is kept by the political subdivision. Of the $20 that is sent to the comptroller, $10 is given back to DPS to administer the OmniBase program.

IV. Pitfalls of Resolving OmniBase Entries

Drivers may be tempted to simply pay tickets in order to be able to renew their driver’s licenses. To simply pay a ticket without negotiating a result with the prosecutor that keeps the ticket off your driving record means that the driver has entered a plea of no contest and will receive a conviction for this offense. This could have negative consequences on that driver’s ability to continue driving legally.

One way a conviction may have negative ramifications is causing a suspension of the driver’s priviliges to drive. This could happen for many reasons. If the driver didn’t have a driver’s license or was under a suspension already when he received the citation, and if the citation is a moving violation, pleading no contest will cause what’s called a “departmental suspension” because a no contest plea requires the driver to admit to driving at the time he got the ticket. This admission to driving illegally triggers a departmental suspension by DPS. For example, if a driver is not driving legally, gets a ticket for running a stop sign, and enters a plea of no contest, he has admitted to the court and DPS by entering that plea that he was indeed driving during a period in which he was not legally eligible to drive. The Department will move to suspend the driver’s license. If this happens, the driver can request a hearing in his or her county of residence in front of the Justice Court or Municipal Court to challenge the suspension. The driver must request this hearing within 20 days of the notice of suspension. DPS will send that notice to the last known address of the driver.

Another way entering a plea of no contest to a moving violation in the OmniBase can be detrimental is that it will add two points to the driver’s license. If the moving violation causes a traffic accident, three points are assessed. If the driver gets six points on his license, he will be assessed a surcharge of $100 every year the point total is six plus $25 for every additional point.

Another way entering a plea of no contest to a moving violation can have negative consequences is by adding moving violations to the driver’s record. If a driver has four moving violations in twelve months, or seven violations in twenty four months, the Department will move to suspend his license. The driver is entitled to a hearing to challenge the suspension. He must request it in 20 days of receiving notice of the suspension.

Pleading no contest to certain citations will result in an automatic suspension in which the driver is not entitled to a hearing. Entering a plea of no contest to DWLI will result in an automatic suspension. If a driver pleads no contest to a citation for failure to maintain financial responsibility (not having insurance) and the driver already has more than one violation for this offense, the driver’s privileges will be suspended automatically and the driver will be required to provide proof to the Department of possession of an SR-22 (high liability) insurance policy for two years.

These kinds of negative consequences can be avoided with the help of a good lawyer who knows how to navigate Class C tickets and negotiate resolutions that do not result in convictions on the driver’s record.

V. Conclusion

It is important to check the OmniBase at www.texasfailureto appear.comprior to the expiration of your license with enough time to rectify any entries in the database before your license is expired and you cannot renew.

If you check the OmniBase and see entries there, consulting with a lawyer can be helpful. Attorneys can post surety bonds and get cases back on the docket so that beneficial resolutions can be negotiated for the driver that will not result in suspension of driver’s privileges.