Traffic-ticket amnesty program gets drivers back behind the wheel
Garrett Noell’s habit of letting his speeding tickets go unpaid jeopardized his job driving the slow-speed Zamboni at a Fresno ice rink.
So when he heard about a state ticket amnesty program, the 26-year-old hot-footed it down to the courthouse to make good on the tickets.
The program allowed him to pay only half of the $1,625 he owed on three speeding tickets from 2006 and 2008 and get his driver’s license restored — not to mention his Zamboni privileges at Gateway Ice Center.
Noell said he was willing to risk driving on a suspended license and avoid paying the tickets when he was younger. But “it’s a lot less stress” to drive legally again, he said.
But relatively few scofflaws out of the tens of thousands in the central San Joaquin Valley owing millions of dollars in fines have taken the half-off deal, which expires June 30.
The process is simple: fill out a one-page form and write a check to the local Superior Court.
In Fresno County, 214 people wiped the slate clean as of last week. In Kings County, 253 cleared their records; in Madera County, 58; and in Tulare County, 625.
Why so few takers on the state’s offer? “People either don’t want to pay their fines or don’t have the money,” said Todd Barton, court executive officer in Kings County.
All the counties have put up posters, sent out news releases and added information to their websites.
The Tulare County numbers are higher because it hired a collection agency, court administrative manager Deanna Jasso said. The agency, which collects a fee when a fine gets paid, has been “proactive” in notifying those who are eligible for the discount, she said.
Kings and Madera counties also hand off their unpaid traffic ticket cases to a collections agency.
Fresno County does its own collections, said court division manager Irene Gonzalez. She said she can’t explain why Fresno County’s numbers are lower than Tulare County’s, but said each county will vary and not every application gets approved due to restrictions.
The Legislature launched the amnesty program to raise money fast in the recession. The last time legislators authorized an amnesty was 1997.
Statewide, the amnesty is forecast to bring in $46 million, with the bulk going to counties and cities, and 4% going to the courts, the state Administrative Office of the Courts said.
As of April 30, Fresno County Superior Court had collected about $92,000, Tulare County about $266,000, Kings County about $64,000, and Madera County about $17,000.
The amnesty covers fines due before Jan. 1, 2009. Reckless driving, DUI and parking tickets aren’t covered, and anyone owing restitution or wanted on a warrant is ineligible.
Tom Osuna, 44, of Clovis paid half of the $543 he owed on a 2007 speeding ticket and a 2008 seatbelt citation.
He said he wanted to clear his record to get his suspended driver’s license restored, so he is making payments on more recent traffic tickets that don’t qualify for amnesty and hopes he can get his license back in October — and put away his bicycle.
“I’m grateful, I really am,” Osuna said. “If you are guilty, you are guilty, that’s all there is to it.”
Where to apply
Tulare County Superior Court: 221 S. Mooney Blvd., Rooms 124 and G28, in Visalia. Also: Tulare and Porterville courts
Kings County Superior Court: 1426 S. Drive, Traffic Division Dept. 5, in Hanford. Also: Corcoran, Lemoore and Avenal courts
Madera County Superior Court: Traffic Division, 201 W. Yosemite, in Madera. Wednesdays only, or call 1-800-727-5848
Fresno County Superior Court: 1100 Van Ness Ave., Room B-1, outside walk-up window, in Fresno
Ticket fine due before Jan. 1, 2009.
Failed to appear or failed to pay in full (date of last payment on or before Jan. 1, 2009).
No victim restitution owed in county where case filed.
No outstanding warrants in county where case filed.
Last day to apply is June 30.
By Lewis Griswold