Criminal justice reformers target punitive traffic tickets

California reformers seeking sweeping changes in the state’s criminal justice system have a new target: burdensome traffic tickets.

The leading proponent of the proposal is California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. She is working on a plan to decriminalize minor traffic infractions by having them handled in civil court instead of criminal court.

Cantil-Sakauye told the Los Angeles Times that it is unacceptable that people who are too poor to pay tickets or who miss court hearings related to the tickets end up in jail or are unable to get to work, wreaking havoc in their lives.

But the change would also help the state court system by limiting how much time criminal courts spend on traffic cases. Reformers say that nearly three-quarters of criminal cases involve traffic tickets, more than 4 million of which are given out annually.

Poor seen as victimized by policies

The shift of such infractions as running a stop sign, illegal lane changes or speeding modestly (up to 15 mph over the limit) to civil courts would involve lowering the burden of proof from beyond a reasonable doubt to reasonable certainty – also a change that would save resources.

Momentum for the changes has built in recent weeks after the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area released a report showing unpaid traffic tickets took a heavy toll on the lives of poor Californians.

It noted that from 2006 to 2015, one-sixth of California adults – 4 million people – had their licenses suspended because of unpaid traffic tickets. It documented that nearly four out of five workers commuted in vehicles and argued that the punitive effects of Golden State traffic policies went far beyond reasonable punishments. That’s because while the fines for certain driving offenses are relatively low – $100 for running a red light – state lawmakers for years have added fees to the tickets to help fund state programs. The total ticket cost for running a red light is $490 in California, vastly higher than other states. The result of this approach is state drivers being assessed nearly $10 billion a year for their infractions.

The rationale that criminal penalties are disproportionately and unnecessarily harsh has driven the three other legal reform pushes seen in the state since 2014.

That year, California voters approved Proposition 47, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. It made state sentencing policies less punitive by classifying many crimes considered “non-serious” and “non-violent” as misdemeanors instead of felonies, unless the defendant had criminal histories of major crimes.

In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 57, once again at Brown’s behest. It made it easier for felons to win parole if they have constructive records in prisons and also gave judges the decision-making authority on whether juvenile suspects should be prosecuted as adults, not prosecutors.

Dramatic changes in bail rules win Senate OK

In the current session of the state Legislature, lawmakers are considering perhaps the most far-reaching changes yet. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, have each introduced bills that would end the state’s practice of requiring formally accused criminal suspects to pay heavy cash bail. They say there is strong evidence that governments with much less onerous bail policies than California – which has the harshest in the nation – have just as good a record of getting the accused to show up for trials.

Bonta’s and Hertzberg’s bills would yield sharp savings for local governments. That’s because a majority of inmates in county jails are there because they can’t pay bail or afford bail bondsmen who charge a 10 percent of bail fee to guarantee they will show up in court.

Hertzberg’s bill passed the Senate 26-11. But the Assembly is more skeptical. It recently rejected Bonta’s identical bill on a 35-37 vote.


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  1. sammy the bull
    sammy the bull 10 June, 2017, 06:47

    This is a great idea! Some REAL ‘social justice’ instead of the endless preening and virtue signaling we’ve come to expect from the righteous left. And who knows: this might even filter down to the level of the black-uniformed, skinhead steroid-psychopaths also known as cops that everyone they pull over for going 5 miles over the limit is NOT in fact criminal scum subject to summary execution if the officer doesn’t like the way they reach for their wallet….

    Reply this comment
  2. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 10 June, 2017, 08:31

    We have some great Summer moving specials for you wrought up doomers…..give us a try.

    We even throw in maps highlighting redneck truck stops and militia sponsored gun ranges!

    Reply this comment
    • ricky65
      ricky65 11 June, 2017, 09:28

      Feeling the need to troll this site for business again, Uly?
      Things must be getting slow out there in Useless Uly’s Unsafe U-haul lot in Hemet.
      Could be most of the working middle class have already pulled out and fled east away from the liberal tyranny of Commiefornia.
      Soon it will just be you, the coastal elites, tech oligarchs, green gentry, illegals and the other dependency classes.
      Given your location, I’d get some big locks, chain link fencing with concertina wire, and a pack of vicious Dobermans to patrol your sidewinder infested rental lot.

      Reply this comment
    • SurfcityUSA
      SurfcityUSA 10 July, 2017, 17:45

      Don’t worry Frankie, when your pension fund is insolvent you can polish helmets in the men’s room at the redneck truck stop to make ends meet.

      Reply this comment
  3. Razed
    Razed 10 June, 2017, 21:45

    Helping the poor by eliminating their right to a Trial by Jury and also Jury nullification.
    You are now subject to laws that you have zero possibility of peacefully changing.

    Reply this comment
  4. ricky65
    ricky65 11 June, 2017, 09:12

    As usual liberals are searching for answers for a problem they created. Adding ridiculous fees to traffic tickets was never more than government sanctioned pick pocketing to support the welfare state bureaucracy.
    As for the ‘poor’ there is a easy solution to the fines and jail problem: Don’t get tickets and don’t commit criminal acts. In a free society, that is your choice not your destiny just because you lack means.
    But to give a break to some citizens and not to others regardless of their financial situation seems to me to be a violation of the 14th Amendment. Supposedly that amendment guarantees equal treatment of the law for all.
    But then who gives a crap these days about the nation’s founding documents written by a bunch of old white guys.

    Reply this comment
    • Dork
      Dork 12 June, 2017, 06:37

      “The right of a citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, by horsedrawn carriage, wagon, or automobile, is not a mere privilege which may be permitted or prohibited at will, but a common right which he has under his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Under this constitutional guaranty one may, therefore, under normal conditions, travel at his inclination along the public highways or in public places, and while conducting himself in an orderly and decent manner, neither interfering with nor disturbing another’s rights, he will be protected, not only in his person, but in his safe conduct.”

      Reply this comment
  5. Queeg
    Queeg 12 June, 2017, 09:29

    There is no greater calling than compassionate understanding by government for the hurtful income inequality. Fines should be on a sliding scale based on ability to pay for traffic fines……

    Remember Korean packing boxes and Cambodian packing twine are 40 percent off in June.

    Making Doomer Moving Comfort Affordable and Great Again-


    Reply this comment
    • Queeg
      Queeg 12 June, 2017, 09:43

      Uly using Queeg handle due to blow out of Uly’s computer spamed by the Russians or some demento doomer-

      Reply this comment
  6. RLC
    RLC 13 June, 2017, 20:28

    Simple. Stop giving out speeding tickets. Germany’s freeways don’t have speeding tickets, nor should we. I went !20 mph in Germany on the Autobahn (freeway) & so did everyone else.

    The Dems are nannystaters.

    Reply this comment
    • fletch92128
      fletch92128 15 June, 2017, 18:30

      “The Dems are nannystaters.” Couldn’t agree more, the entire state is that way, requiring all kinds of stupid permits to work.

      Reply this comment
      • Ulyssess Uhaul
        Ulyssess Uhaul 20 June, 2017, 08:25


        Forget permits…..get out there and pack and ship with us….summer is best time to cross the Kali border.


        Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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