California is almost predatory in the way it deals with late fees when it comes to traffic tickets. They call these practices “civil assessments.” This is the technical term for the late fees that incur from missing a deadline. The worst thing is that they go up exponentially for every deadline. These civil assessments bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the judicial system. California residents are fed up with these fees and many are mobilizing against them. Even California lawmakers understand that it’s too much. The only question now is, how much should they cut these fees? Historically, politicians aren’t good at giving money back and even worse at taking less of it. Fortunately, there are some organizations that are ready to fight back, and by the looks of things, they’re winning.
It’s possible to get a fine that is ten times higher than the ticket itself. California has some of the highest late fees in the nation. For instance, a $35 jaywalking ticket has a $300 maximum late fee. This extra money goes straight to the courts. Last year alone, the courts made more than $100,000 in late fees alone. That statistic alone is staggering, but when it’s realized that a disproportionate number of issued tickets go to underserved communities, it’s enough to start asking questions. This brings many to cry out that California’s judicial system is paid for by residents who can’t afford it in the first place. Not to mention that their neighborhoods don’t see the money recycled into the community.
Late Fees Cost Some More than Money
In San Lorenzo, a resident couldn’t afford to pay her traffic ticket. The $1,500 in late fees that were added to the original cost of the ticket put her in hot water. This put her in debt and prevented her from getting a license for 13 years. Without a license, she couldn’t find better work opportunities, which began an all-too familiar cycle. The Debt Free Justice California is a coalition of organizations set to prevent this type of thing from happening ever again. They’ve fought against the unfair ways the legal system fines vulnerable communities. They filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County. The county began a practice that automatically charged the maximum $300 late fee for all traffic cases that missed the deadline. The coalition accused them of incentivizing local courts to collect more fees. San Mateo County agreed to halt late fee collections until October. Hopefully, by then, they will also adjust these late fees to a more manageable number.
It’s not just that these late fees are a hassle. It’s that they’re disproportionate to the original citation. Some wish to remove the late fees all together. State officials agree that they should lower the fees, but removing them entirely is impossible. However, a recent announcement from Senate leaders says otherwise. The state has a surplus of $68 billion. So not only do they have more than enough money to do their jobs, they’re collecting even more money from people who can’t afford it. The injustice is all too real, but luckily, the future looks bright. The discussion on chopping late fees to more manageable numbers is here. Soon, we’ll see more proportionate late fees in California.