Drivers license

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.

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.