Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
In the Justice Court, all class C cases are punishable by fine. The maximum fine for any class C misdemeanor is $500. Court costs vary but are generally under $100, with a few exceptions. Traffic tickets have set maximum amounts that may be less than $500 depending upon the offense. What happens when an individual is unable to pay the fine and court costs? Defendants have several options to pay their fines – payment plans, community service and indigency.
The option most people take is to set up a payment plan through the court to discharge their fines. We work with defendants to set up a plan that will see a set monthly charge. It’s better to set up your plan with a smaller monthly amount. This way, if you can pay more each month, you can but you’re protected from having to come back to court if you’re unable to meet the agreed upon too-high amount. Often people will try to set up a plan to clear their costs faster and set a monthly payment of $100 or more. If you can’t make that payment once, you go into collections. Eventually, you’ll have to come back into court to reset your plan. If you set it initially at a lower amount, then you reduce the risk of collections
If you are unable to make payments due to low or no income, community service is another option. Normally, every hour of community service performed equals a $10 credit towards your fine. So, a fine of $572 requires 57 hours of community service. We usually give individuals 30-90 days to complete the community service, depending on the amount needed. Community service hours can be obtained from any willing non-profit. A record of hours needs to be kept and signed by the non-profit agency’s representative.
If the amount owed is too high for a community service to help or the individual is in a situation where volunteering is problematic, an application for indigency can be filled out. It details your income, bills, dependents and assets as well as any other assistance you may be receiving. If accepted, fines and court costs can be reduced or waived. This application can also be used to waive appeal bonds in both criminal and civil cases.
Don’t ignore your ticket because you can’t afford to pay it. This will just increase your costs. If you fail to appear or set up a payment plan on a ticket or other charge, warrant fees and new charges can apply.
If you request a trial, thinking this will result in dismissal of your ticket, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. To date, I’ve had law enforcement appear at every contested ticket. If you do this and then fail to appear on your court date without contacting the court ahead of time, be prepared to see additional charges and fines added to your case. If you waste the court’s time, you’re going to have a warrant for your arrest issued as well as a new charge of Failure to Appear added. You’ll also find I’m less willing to reduce fines in these instances. In short, it’s in your best interest to work with the court and show up when required.