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.
I know someone who was a traffic cop. It can be a thankless stressful job. Don’t create a system that could be corrupted. For example, if you had a bad cop, for a little larger fee, the cop might keep the payment off your record by swiping your debt card with his “other” system.