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City Council Pondering

Amnesty Plan Could Clear City Fine Dockets

Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon (Ward 6) said the justice system’s tendency to criminalize poverty would be lessened under a measure being considered by the City Council.

The measure would establish an amnesty window, giving thousands of offenders who missed court dates a chance to pay a reduced fine, or have fines excused if they cannot pay.

“Particularly, because those living in poverty or with a serious mental illness or substance use disorder,” Councilwoman Hamon commented, “have obstacles that may be contributing to the fact that they haven’t taken care of these charges previously.”

“This reduces the compounding fees for failure to appear and gets rid of any warrant they might have.”

Due to an order issued by Presiding Municipal Judge Philippa James, the window for resolving low-level offenses would open July 1 and run through March 31, 2020.

An individual with an unpaid speeding ticket for driving 1 to 10 mph over the limit could resolve the case for $155.

That is close to the cost of the original ticket and a reduction of about 75 percent from the $613 that accumulates after an individual fails to pay a citation and the court issues a warrant.

Those who still cannot pay would be offered an indigency hearing in which costs could be excused.

Similar savings would be offered for other unresolved traffic offenses, reducing fines and fees to $166, and for non-jury criminal cases, to $161.

Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher, the council’s Judiciary Committee chairman, said the program provides an avenue to get lingering cases “off the books, get rid of the warrants.”

The Judiciary Committee originally discussed a six-month window, but agreed on an additional three months to enable word of the offer to spread.

A memo from City Manager Craig Freeman said amnesty offer would apply to about 116,000 citations for offenses that occurred before July 1, 2017.

Statistics show 30 percent of the 120,000 to 150,000 citations issued annually in Oklahoma City go unpaid. Of the rest, 85 percent, are paid within the first six months.

“Not only does this take a burden off our Municipal Court and police by clearing out failure-to-appear warrants on charges like a speeding ticket,” Councilwoman Hamon stated, “but it is also another step in not further criminalizing poverty.”

“And for those who would still have trouble paying the reduced amount,” she said, “the courts already have hearings that help those who aren’t able to pay without further penalizing them.” City Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon is pushing for the adoption of an amnesty plan that could result in the clearing of city fine dockets. ..To read more, subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper

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