A house bill recently introduced in the Texas legislature would allow police officers to collect immediate payment from “defendants” for Class C misdemeanor traffic fines “by use of a credit or debit card,” completely circumventing the rule of law and citizens’ due process rights.
H.B. No. 121, introduced on Monday by State Rep. Allen Fletcher, concerns “an alternative means of payment of certain criminal fines and court costs.”
“Under the procedure, a peace officer making an arrest of a defendant (1) shall inform the defendant of: (A) the possibility of making an immediate payment of the fine and related court costs by use of a credit or debit card; and (B) the defendant’s available alternatives to making an immediate payment,” the bill, still in its initial phase, states.
The House bill goes on to explain that “a peace officer making an arrest of a defendant: (2) may accept, on behalf of the court, the defendant’s immediate payment of the fine and related court costs by use of a credit or debit card, after which the peace officer must release the defendant.”
Backers of the bill may attempt to argue it merely provides an additional method for the courts to expedite the collection of outstanding payments, and may say it will free up jail space to be able to hold more criminal offenders, or free up court dockets to deal with more important cases.
However, should the bill pass, it would deal a devastating blow to the citizenry’s right to due process, which among other things mandates an appearance and assessment before a magistrate prior to a case proceeding to trial, and would set the legal precedent wherein everyday police officers would be empowered to take on the roles of judge, jury and executioner – and charge “related court costs.”
Not explicitly stated is the fact that, under the bill, traffic cops would be required to carry around credit card swiping machines, in addition to citizens’ private credit or debit card information, which could open the doors to a litany of personal security risks and liabilities.
If the bill were to pass, it would follow a disturbing trend set by other states such as North Carolina, whose populace recently voted in favor of passing a law permitting criminal defendants to waive their rights to a jury trial, allowing law enforcement to pressure them into surrendering due process as part of a plea bargain.
In areas such as Tenaha, Texas, where cops were exposed to be running a racket operation tantamount to highway robbery, it would be much easier for police to extract wealth from unsuspecting travelers who would rather pay immediate fines than revisit an out-of-the-way small town for a trivial court appearance.
Indeed, the passage of H.B. No. 121 would go a long way in destroying the illusion that traffic cops work in the interest of public safety, and would lay bare that the state leverages arbitrary traffic laws to fleece the American public.