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.