St. Peters, MO, (Law Firm Newswire) August 31, 2015 – Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed legislation on July 9 to establish a cap on how much money local governments can collect from fines and court costs for minor traffic offenses, setting the stage for the reform of the state’s municipal court system.
Along with having to consider the ability of defendants to pay fines, courts will now be prohibited from sentencing people to jail for failing to pay. They will also no longer be able to suspend drivers’ licenses and levy additional charges for failure to appear in court or pay fines for minor traffic violations.
Last year, municipal courts in St. Louis generated more than $52 million in revenue. The reform bill lowers the percentage of revenue that most cities and counties can collect from traffic fines and fees to 20 percent. The extra money will go to schools, an attempt by lawmakers to prevent local governments from relying heavily on ticketing for funding.
“This law helps reduce criminalization for minor offenses and prevents courts from unfairly profiting from racial minorities. It is definitely a step toward re-establishing trust between people, the police and courts, but change is not going to happen overnight,” said Charles James, a prominent criminal defense attorney in St. Peters, Missouri.
The legislation comes after a U.S. Justice Department report criticized policing practices in Ferguson, Missouri for operating with the goal of maximizing city revenue through ticketing and disproportionately targeting African Americans.
Last August, the fatal shooting of 18-year-old black man Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson triggered a nationwide debate over the role of police, especially in low-income and minority communities. The incident led to riots in St. Louis and allegations of excessive police force and bias against African Americans. A subsequent decision by a local grand jury not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, ignited additional unrest in November.
Nixon said, “This landmark legislation will return our municipal courts to their intended purpose: serving our citizens and protecting the public … That means, under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops — investigating crimes, protecting the public and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.”
The bill goes into effect on August 28, but municipalities have three to six years to comply with some provisions.
“Mending the relationship that communities have with the police will take time. The situation is not going to improve significantly unless lawmakers get to the root of the problem, which includes economic disparity and institutional racism,” said James.
Learn more at http://www.jameslawgroup.net/.
James Law Group, LLC
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St. Peters, MO 63376
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