San Diego

California Amnesty on Traffic Debt for Poor Ending Soon

California's amnesty program for residents who can't afford to pay off spiraling traffic fines and court fees will end soon.

California's amnesty program for residents who can't afford to pay off spiraling traffic fines and court fees will end next month, authorities announced. 

The program, which began in October 2015 as part of Gov. Jerry Brown's annual budget, was scheduled to run through March 31. The last day to apply for the program before it expires is April 3. 

“We are getting the word out about the upcoming deadline. This is an important law that was designed to allow those who have been unable to pay their fines get right with the law and clear their record. We want to ensure, one more time, that people who are eligible for this program know it will be ending soon so they don’t miss out,” said Michael Roddy, Executive Officer of the Superior Court in a statement.

The traffic fines and court fees have led to millions of driver's licenses being suspended.

Under the plan, drivers with lesser infractions would pay either 50 or 80 percent of what they owe, depending on income. Certain drivers would also be able to apply for installment payments for outstanding tickets. Drunken-driving and reckless-riving violations are not eligible.

Civil assessment fees would be waived for some tickets. Residents who have had their licenses revoked would be able to apply to have them reinstated.

Only violations due to be paid before Jan. 1, 2013, are eligible for discounts.

Since 2006, the state has suspended 4.8 million driver's licenses after motorists failed to pay or appear in court, the Department of Motor Vehicles said earlier this year. Of those, only about 83,000 licenses were reinstated.

When he announced the program in 2015, Brown called the traffic court system a "hellhole of desperation" for the poor.

The push by the Democratic governor highlighted concern among lawmakers and court administrators that California's justice system is profiting off minorities and low-income residents.

Traffic fines have been skyrocketing in the state, and courts have grown reliant on fees as a result of budget cuts during the recession.

Twenty years ago, the fine for running a red light was $103. Today, it costs as much as $490 as the state has established add-on fees to support everything from court construction to emergency medical air transportation. The cost can jump to over $800 once a person fails to pay or misses a traffic court appearance.

To learn more about the program, click here.

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