TYLER, Texas — Starting Sept. 1, the Tyler Municipal Court will be rolling out a plan to help reduce the financial burden of some court fines and fees.
"The court is trying to be flexible and accommodating because we recognize that the public who have cases pending in our court have been faced with financial hardships," Presiding Judge Amy McCullough said.
The court deals with class “C” misdemeanors such as traffic offenses, warrants, and city code violations. McCullough says often times people will skip their court hearing because they feel they can’t afford it or don’t know what to do. However, this results in the person owing more money.
“In concert with a warrant, a person generally gets a failure to appear charge,” she explained. “Those are two kinds of charges that you can actually get in municipal court for not appearing to court when you're ordered to be here.”
Typically, the warrant fee is $50 and the failure to appear charge costs around $300. There’s also another fine someone could face on top of those if they made a promise to appear and didn’t, adding on another couple of hundred dollars.
“It's a significant amount and so we're going to reduce all of that down to $10 plus court costs,” McCullough said. “The court costs depend on the offense, and it's regulated by the state.”
People will have to discuss their financial situation to determine if they’re eligible for what the judge is calling the “COVID special.” The reduction for those fines will continue until Dec. 31.
"To take advantage of those offers, you'd have enter a plea of guilty or no contest,” Elizabeth Smith, city prosecutor, said.
Tyler Municipal Court is also extending its deadline for people to pay off tickets, fines and fees. Starting at the beginning of September as well, there will be a two-week extension before payments begin.
However, if someone is still unable to afford it, the court offers payment plans among other things.
"We also offer community service as an alternative,” Smith explained. “With COVID-19 social distancing requirements, we’ve started to allow them to have virtual community service hours. As well as making donations to local food banks and animal shelters in lieu of those community service hours that they have in their online program.”
Additionally, clerks will then be able to determine if a fine can be reduced and help someone make their payment.
“You can always contact the court by phone and on the internet," she said. "To take care of your business. You can pay with a credit card or a debit card on the phone with a clerk. They do that all day long. Or you can go on the website and take care of it that way. We also have auto drafts. So if a person has a bank account and they want to make arrangements with their bank personally, so that their payments to the court can come out regularly, we certainly can accommodate them in that fashion as well.”
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