Criminal Justice

Get a Speeding Ticket, Pay the DA for Better Treatment

Louisiana's pre-trial diversion programs helps drivers avoid higher insurance premiums-and enriches DAs' offices.


Raymond Clarke Images/flickr

District attorneys' offices across Louisiana are offering pre-trial diversion programs for traffic tickets, according to an investigation by The Lens. Under the programs, the fines associated with the tickets go directly to the DA's office, and drivers can avoid having their tickets treated as moving violations and thus avoid higher insurance premiums.

The hustle reveals what a central role revenue-raising plays in policing.

"This is a complete failure by the Louisiana legislature and court system to instill an accountability or control on prosecutors or sheriffs," New Orleans criminal defense attorney C.J. Mordock, of the Mordock Law Group, tells Reason. "Had an individual assistant district attorney offered this deal, he could be prosecuted. But if a faceless unaccountable bureaucracy does it, life goes on."

Pre-trial diversion programs were created as a way to keep first-time offenders out of the courts, "diverting" them from a trial and offering them a second chance. Some Louisiana parishes don't even bother to require traffic violators to attend online driving schools—so long as they are willing to write a check to the DA's office.

The fact that some moving violations can be downgraded so easily to non-moving violations suggests that they were not moving violations in the first place—that they were always primarily revenue-raising endeavors. The district attorney's website in Caddo Parish illustrates this when it notes that no one ticketed "for any speed which is deemed excessive" would be eligible for the program. But if a speed is not excessive, what reason is there to issue a ticket other than to make money off the motorist?

What makes the situation in Louisiana worse is that it's the only state where public defenders are largely funded through traffic tickets.

Years ago, The Lens noted, public defenders pushed to be allocated more of the money collected through court fees. They were receiving $35 per trial and were asking for $100; eventually they got $45.

That fight led to this delicious quote from E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association: "That was a theft of our portion of the fines and forfeitures. We let them steal less money than they were gonna steal from us."

Forfeiture, of course, could also be considered "theft." It certainly fits the definition a lot better than one component of the criminal justice system trying to get a larger slice of the revenue, particularly when it's the only segment of the system focused on defending the rights of the accused. Shenanigans like pre-trial diversion for traffic tickets support the idea that fines could be seen as a kind of theft too—at least when they're not levied as punishment, or to improve safety, but to fill government coffers.

Louisiana public defenders complained to The Lens that pre-trial diversion for traffic tickets means less funding for their offices, since the proceeds go directly to the DA instead of being shared. But the public defenders should not be funded through tickets to begin with. Neither should DAs or any other element of the criminal justice system. Such perverse incentives should have no place in a system supposedly dedicated to justice.

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  1. This is a complete failure by the Louisiana legislature and court system to instill an accountability or control on prosecutors or sheriffs…

    This is an abject failure of the insurance industry, quite frankly. I remember when they were powerful enough to get speed limits set throughout the land, but now they can’t even stop local politicians from stealing their premium increases?

  2. But if a speed is not excessive, what reason is there to issue a ticket other than to make money off the motorist?

    Evul Kristchunz and any cis-het shitlords not already mentioned get to verify that your gender identity conforms to your sex. Can’t let the tranny database get out of date!

    More seriously, even sans legal justifications and funding reasons, there’s still the ever-present ‘Respect muh athoritay!’ and ‘FYTW!’ justifications.

    1. The law is the law is the law, as my jr. high vice principle told me when I got caught smoking (actually “the lawr is the lawr is the lawr”). Then my dad yelled at him to stop being an asshole and threatening to call the police. Then he yelled at me for getting caught smoking.

      Sorry, what are we talking about?

  3. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me.
    Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me.
    “Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.
    What, you were driving the speed limit? Fuck you, pay me.

  4. The Caddo Parish Hustle would be a pretty sweet title for a heist movie.

  5. It’s Louisiana – it wasn’t named for Queen Anne. It’s French, they held onto the divine right of kings a little longer than the civilized world. Same as the Spanish-influenced Southwest, they may not agree altogether with British common law precepts some of us take for granted.

  6. Some Louisiana parishes don’t even bother to require traffic violators to attend online driving schools?so long as they are willing to write a check to the DA’s office.

    A completely honest corruption scheme and reason complains about it. “Driving school” is arguably an even bigger scam and waste of taxpayer money.

  7. Extortion rackets.

  8. I had an interesting ticket encounter in Idaho a few years back. I had just taken a new job which required moving, had canceled the PO Box at the old address and was on a short road trip to visit family between jobs. There was a weird little construction zone speed trap and I got pulled over. All I could think of was, how do I keep them from sending this ticket to the old now-defunct PO Box on the not-quite-yet defunct old drivers license?

    The cop must have been a transplant, because he had a full-blown Alabama accent, and suggested that I might rather pay $40 on the spot to avoid the ticket. I have never heard of such a program before or since, but it was a life saver for me then, so I did. Got a receipt too. I wondered if it was for out-of-staters only, and wondered about the incentives, and what the locals thought of it.

    I’d much rather that were possible for all such undefendable tickets. My word against theirs. Even if they just pocketed it, it beats fighting a full blown ticket from 1000 miles away, and keeps the insurance company out of the loop.

  9. So nobody is complaining that insurance companies are tied in directly to court/ driver license systems to find out when you get a moving violation?

    As my vehicle insurance rates continue to go up without any accidents or claims on MY record, I assume that I am paying for bad drivers who rack up accidents and claims but have to have insurance. These people cannot be booted by insurance companies nor charged high rates because insurance have regulated rates.

  10. How can anyone be surprised? ‘Public Servants’ mostly serve themselves to a paycheck, and they are getting a bigger paycheck than the private sector. While working for a large IT services company, we had to take 10% cost out of contrracts annually, that means we had less labor and infrastructure dollars, to deliver the same service every year. Get your hands out of my pocket.

  11. So, isn’t extortion the sole purpose of the traffic laws? Oh, yeah, and teaching the slaves who’s the master and who’s not. “Court is now in session. Stand for the judge. Take off your hats. Refer the representative of your rulers as, ‘your honor.'” He sits on a high bench overlooking the slaves, and they’d better not murmur in his presence.

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