BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                            Senator Loni Hancock, Chair              A
                             2013-2014 Regular Session               B

          AB 2724 (Bradford)                                         4
          As Introduced February 21, 2014
          Hearing date:  June 24, 2014
          Penal Code

                           FAILURE TO APPEAR IN COURT: FINES  


          Source:  Western Center on Law and Poverty; East Bay Community  
                   law Center; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights 

          Prior Legislation: SB 366 (Wright) - held in Senate  
          Appropriations, 2013

          Support: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; All of Us  
                   or None; California Attorneys for Criminal Justice;  
                   Legal Barriers to Employment Project; Los Angeles  
                   Community Action Network; Ella Baker Center for Human  
                   Rights; National Employment Law Project; Personal  
                   Insurance Federation of California; Public Counsel;  
                   Rubicon Programs; Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social  
                   Justice; San Francisco Public Defender; Taxpayers for  
                   Improving Public Safety; Watsonville Law Center;  
                   Western Regional Advocacy Project; Equal Rights  

          Opposition:None known

          Assembly Floor Vote:  Ayes 78 - Noes 0



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                                       KEY ISSUE



          The purpose of this bill is to provide that the ability to pay a  
          fine is not a prerequisite to filing a request that the court  
          vacate a civil assessment, and that an agreement to pay a fine  
          in installments or perform community service in lieu of paying  
          the fine is sufficient for the court to request that the hold on  
          the defendant's driver's license be lifted.
           Existing law  requires the court, upon the request of the  
          defendant, to consider the defendant's ability to pay in any  
          adjudication of a Vehicle Code violation.  Existing law further  
          requires the court, if it determines that the defendant has the  
          ability to pay all or part of the costs, to set the amount to be  
          reimbursed and order the defendant to pay that sum to the county  
          in the manner in which the court believes reasonable and  
          compatible with the defendant's financial ability, or, with the  
          consent of a defendant who is placed on probation, the court  
          shall order the probation officer to set the amount of payment,  
          not to exceed the maximum amount set by the court, and the  
          manner in which the payment is to be made to the county.   
          Existing law further requires the court to take into account the  



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          amount of any fine imposed upon the defendant and any amount the  
          defendant has been ordered to pay in restitution in making a  
          determination of whether a defendant has the ability to pay.   
          (Vehicle Code,  42003 (c).) 

           Existing law  allows the court, in addition to any other penalty  
          in an infraction, misdemeanor or felony, to impose a civil  
          assessment of up to $300 against any defendant who fails to  
          appear in court for any proceeding, fails to pay any portion of  
          the fine ordered by the court, or fails to pay an agreed-upon  
          bail installment, as specified.  (Penal Code,  1214.1 (a).) 

           Existing law  provides that the assessment described above will  
          not become effective until at least 10 calendar days after the  
          court mails a warning notice to the defendant, as specified.   
          Existing law requires the court to vacate the assessment if the  
          defendant appears within the time specified in the notice and  
          shows good cause for the failure to appear, or the failure to  
          pay a fine or bail installment.  (Penal Code,  1214.1 (b).) 

          This bill  provides that ability to post bail or pay the civil  
          assessment shall not be a prerequisite to filing a request that  
          the court vacate the assessment.  Imposition or collection of a  
          civil assessment shall not preclude a defendant from scheduling  
          a court hearing on the underlying charge.

           Existing law  provides that any person convicted of an infraction  
          may, upon a showing that payment of the total fine would pose a  
          hardship on the defendant, be sentenced to perform community  
          service in lieu of the total fine that would be otherwise  
          imposed.  (Penal Code, 

           Existing law  provides that if any person has willfully failed to  
          pay a fine within the time authorized by the court to pay the  
          fine, the magistrate or clerk of the court may give notice of  
          the failure to pay to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for  
          any violation and requires the court to inform DMV if the fine  
          is later fully paid.  (Vehicle Code,  40509 (b), and  



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           This bill  provides that if an agreement to pay the fine in  
          installments or an agreement to perform community service is  
          signed, the court shall also issue and file with DMV a  
          certificate showing that the agreement has been made and request  
          the license hold be lifted.

           This bill  provides that the court shall not require the payment  
          of bail, the fine, or a civil assessment before the person  
          requests that the court vacate a civil assessment.


          For the last several years, severe overcrowding in California's  
          prisons has been the focus of evolving and expensive litigation  
          relating to conditions of confinement.  On May 23, 2011, the  
          United States Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its  
          prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity within two  
          years from the date of its ruling, subject to the right of the  
          state to seek modifications in appropriate circumstances.   

          Beginning in early 2007, Senate leadership initiated a policy to  
          hold legislative proposals which could further aggravate the  
          prison overcrowding crisis through new or expanded felony  
          prosecutions.  Under the resulting policy, known as "ROCA"  
          (which stands for "Receivership/ Overcrowding Crisis  
          Aggravation"), the Committee held measures that created a new  
          felony, expanded the scope or penalty of an existing felony, or  
          otherwise increased the application of a felony in a manner  
          which could exacerbate the prison overcrowding crisis.  Under  
          these principles, ROCA was applied as a content-neutral,  
          provisional measure necessary to ensure that the Legislature did  
          not erode progress towards reducing prison overcrowding by  
          passing legislation, which would increase the prison population.  

          In January of 2013, just over a year after the enactment of the  
          historic Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, the State of  



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          California filed court documents seeking to vacate or modify the  
          federal court order requiring the state to reduce its prison  
          population to 137.5 percent of design capacity.  The State  
          submitted that the, ". . .  population in the State's 33 prisons  
          has been reduced by over 24,000 inmates since October 2011 when  
          public safety realignment went into effect, by more than 36,000  
          inmates compared to the 2008 population . . . , and by nearly  
          42,000 inmates since 2006 . . . ."  Plaintiffs opposed the  
          state's motion, arguing that, "California prisons, which  
          currently average 150% of capacity, and reach as high as 185% of  
          capacity at one prison, continue to deliver health care that is  
          constitutionally deficient."  In an order dated January 29,  
          2013, the federal court granted the state a six-month extension  
          to achieve the 137.5 % inmate population cap by December 31,  

          The Three-Judge Court then ordered, on April 11, 2013, the state  
          of California to "immediately take all steps necessary to comply  
          with this Court's . . . Order . . . requiring defendants to  
          reduce overall prison population to 137.5% design capacity by  
          December 31, 2013."  On September 16, 2013, the State asked the  
          Court to extend that deadline to December 31, 2016.  In  
          response, the Court extended the deadline first to January 27,  
          2014 and then February 24, 2014, and ordered the parties to  
          enter into a meet-and-confer process to "explore how defendants  
          can comply with this Court's June 20, 2013 Order, including  
          means and dates by which such compliance can be expedited or  
          accomplished and how this Court can ensure a durable solution to  
          the prison crowding problem."

          The parties were not able to reach an agreement during the  
          meet-and-confer process.  As a result, the Court ordered  
          briefing on the State's requested extension and, on February 10,  
          2014, issued an order extending the deadline to reduce the  
          in-state adult institution population to 137.5% design capacity  
          to February 28, 2016.  The order requires the state to meet the  
          following interim and final population reduction benchmarks:

                 143% of design bed capacity by June 30, 2014;



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                 141.5% of design bed capacity by February 28, 2015; and
                 137.5% of design bed capacity by February 28, 2016. 

          If a benchmark is missed the Compliance Officer (a position  
          created by the February 10, 2016 order) can order the release of  
          inmates to bring the State into compliance with that benchmark.   

          In a status report to the Court dated May 15, 2014, the state  
          reported that as of May 14, 2014, 116,428 inmates were housed in  
          the State's 34 adult institutions, which amounts to 140.8% of  
          design bed capacity, and 8,650 inmates were housed in  
          out-of-state facilities.   

          The ongoing prison overcrowding litigation indicates that prison  
          capacity and related issues concerning conditions of confinement  
          remain unresolved.  While real gains in reducing the prison  
          population have been made, even greater reductions may be  
          required to meet the orders of the federal court.  Therefore,  
          the Committee's consideration of ROCA bills -bills that may  
          impact the prison population - will be informed by the following  

                 Whether a measure erodes realignment and impacts the  
               prison population;
                 Whether a measure addresses a crime which is directly  
               dangerous to the physical safety of others for which there  
               is no other reasonably appropriate sanction; 
                 Whether a bill corrects a constitutional infirmity or  
               legislative drafting error; 
                 Whether a measure proposes penalties which are  
               proportionate, and cannot be achieved through any other  
               reasonably appropriate remedy; and,
                 Whether a bill addresses a major area of public safety  
               or criminal activity for which there is no other  
               reasonable, appropriate remedy.




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          1.    Need for this Bill  

          According to the author:

               Many low-income individuals cannot afford the spiraling  
               debt caused by unpaid traffic violations and court  
               assessments.  Failure to pay the penalties can lead to  
               a suspended driver's license.  Without a driver's  
               license, an individual may (1) lose their job because  
               they are unable to get to work; (2) find it difficult  
               to obtain a new job; and (3) be ineligible for certain  
               employment or job training programs.  Without a job, an  
               individual cannot repay the fines to regain their  
               driver's license, and thus become trapped in a vicious  
               cycle of debt that is very difficult to escape.  It is  
               estimated that the driver's licenses of about 600,000  
               individuals are suspended as a result of a failure to  
               appear or failure to pay.

               Low-income individuals are easily trapped in a maze of  
               various fines and assessments. 

               Under existing law, an appearance before a judge can  
               only be scheduled once all civil assessments are fully  
               paid.  If the individual cannot afford the assessments,  
               they cannot contest the assessment or original  
               violation.  Furthermore, a judge cannot release a  
               driver's license hold until fines and penalties are  
               fully paid.  Even if the individual agrees to a payment  
               plan, it can be years before their driver's license is  

               This bill helps low-income individuals keep their jobs  
               and repay assessments by two means.  First, it allows  
               an individual, before penalties are paid, to appear in  
               front of a judge to contest the assessment or original  
               violation.  Second, it allows a judge to ask the DMV to  
               reinstate a driver's license after the individual signs  
               an agreement to pay by installment plan or perform  



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               community service.  As courts have billions of dollars  
               in uncollected fines, this bill will help courts recoup  
               some of this money by providing individuals with the  
               means to repay penalties.

               Overall, this bill will help low-income individuals  
               keep their jobs and repay assessments.  By helping  
               individuals become employed and repay penalties, the  
               bill will also allow courts to recoup some of the  
               billions of dollars they have in uncollected fines.



          2.    Penalty Assessments  

          Until the budget year 2002-2003, there was 170% in penalty  
          assessments applied to every fine. The current penalty  
          assessments are approximately 310% plus a flat fee of $79.  (See  
          Penal Code,  1464; Penal Code,  1465.7; Penal Code,  1465.8  
          Government Code,  70373; Government Code,  7600.5; Government  
          Code,  76000 et seq; Government Code,  76000.10; Government  
          Code,  76104.6; Government Code,  76104.7.)  This makes a $200  
          fine over $800.  Failure to pay a fine on time or to appear in  
          court can add additional assessments.

          3.    Waiver of Civil Assessments  

          Under existing law, a person cannot appear before a judge to  
          request the waiver of an assessment that was imposed because a  
          person failed to appear until he or she has paid the full  
          assessment, even if the failure to appear was because he or she  
          did not receive the initial notice.  If a person cannot afford  
          to pay the assessment, he or she cannot contest any additional  
          assessment or the original fine.

          This bill would provide that that ability to pay the original  
          fine, plus a penalty assessment, or pay an additional civil  
          assessment is not a prerequisite to requesting the court vacate  
          the assessment or schedule a hearing on the underlying charge.

          4.    Reinstatement of Driver's License  

          If a person has not paid his or her fines, the court notifies  
          DMV and a person's license is suspended.  The license remains  
          suspended until the fine is paid in full, even if the person  
          goes to court and starts a payment plan.  This makes it  
          extremely difficult for a person to get to work to make the  
          payments or do the community service since he or she cannot  
          drive legally.  For example, from the author's background:



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               [A] homeless father on General Assistance received  
               several tickets for lack of insurance.  He failed to  
               appear at the hearings because he did not receive the  
               notices, and eventually incurred fines and assessments  
               exceeding $9,000.  The court is allowing monthly  
               payments of $100, but at this rate, his license will  
               not be reinstated for 7 years.

          This bill would provide that if there is an agreement to pay the  
          fine by installments or to perform community service to pay the  
          fine, the court shall ask DMV to lift the hold on the person's