I am a seasoned traffic ticket attorney and everyone needs to know that many years ago, the Arizona legislature decriminalized most traffic offenses. While DUI, Driving on a Suspended License, Reckless Driving and Hit & Run all maintained their misdemeanor criminal status, the majority of Arizona traffic offenses (such as speeding, stop signs and car pool lane violations) became civil infractions.
The key difference between a criminal and a civil offense is that you can never be sent to jail for violating a civil traffic law. The judge can assess a fine and inform Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) of your infraction, but you can never go to jail. Even if you fail to pay a court-ordered civil traffic fine, the court cannot issue a warrant for your arrest. So what happens to those drivers who either refuse to pay a civil traffic fine or simply do not have the money to do so? The legal procedure is not complicated. Their driver’s license gets suspended indefinitely until the fine is paid in full.
Driving on a suspended license is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500.00 fine. Often this offense results in just a criminal citation, but sometimes, an individual is taken into physical custody and his vehicle impounded. If a person is found guilty of driving on a suspended license, MVD can impose additional suspension time (in addition to the rapidly-accruing fines).
As an Arizona traffic ticket lawyer, I have been amazed at the number of people who end up in deeper legal trouble because they thought ignoring a civil traffic fine was no big deal. They assumed that, without a warrant for their arrest, there was nothing to worry about.
They did not realize they were driving on a suspended license. By the time I am called for advice, what started out as a single $300 civil fine has often ballooned into thousands of dollars in fines, surcharges, and incarceration costs.
The sad reality is that a lot of people live on tight budgets. By statute, traffic courts must offer monthly payment plans. For many people, however, monthly payments still create a significant economic hardship they are unable to meet. Historically, courts have turned over their delinquent traffic accounts to professional collections agencies. Paying 50 cents on the dollar to a collection agent may stop the annoying collection calls and letters but seldom results in the reinstatement by MVD of one’s privilege to drive.
To help drivers satisfy old traffic fines, the Arizona legislature has enacted A.R.S. §13-824. Effective January 1, 2016, any city court judge or county justice of the peace may utilize community service (at a rate of $10.00 per hour) as a method to allow drivers to pay traffic fines. Pursuant to this new statute, court fees, assessments and incarceration costs can also be worked off through community service. As a result, individuals with criminal traffic cases (like DUI or Suspended License violations) will also have the ability reduce their financial obligations to any court in the state.
Although some judges previously permitted community service, there was no uniform application as to when community service was available or how much each hour was worth. Certain judges allowed permitted community service hours to be applied only to a fine, others also reduced fees and assessments. Some judges only gave $5.00 per hour credit while other judges used the federal minimum wage. Hopefully, this new statute will result in a more uniform procedure and make it easier for the average taxpayer to keep unpaid traffic fines from growing into a huge legal nightmare.
Should you or a loved one have any questions about an on-going traffic case or obnoxiously old traffic fines, please give me call. I am an experienced traffic ticket attorney and I can help you today. Please call me 24/7 at (480) 833-2341, to discuss your situation.