[The following post is by TDV Contributor Wendy McElroy]
A bill before the Texas legislature is being widely misreported by the alternative media. That’s a shame because H.B. 121 could set a dangerous precedent by giving law enforcement a procedure that invites corruption and could quickly expand in scope. H.B. 121 dramatically increases the police ability to extort money from average Americans. That’s the flip side of the police state: one side enforces social control while the other loots and confiscates. First the state takes your rights and then it takes your wealth.
If profitable, H.B. 121 procedure could become standard nationwide.
What H.B. 121 Is And Is Not
Entitled “Alternative means of payment of certain criminal fines and court costs,” the bill alters an important aspect of the arrest process for certain outstanding warrants. (Note: the bill’s language is currently open to revision.) It states that a policeman “(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.” In short, pay up or go to jail.
Unfortunately, the government watchdog site InfoWars mischaracterized H.B. 121 in its article “Cops To Become Judge, Jury & Extortioner: Police to charge drivers on the spot with credit card readers.” InfoWars gave the impression that Texas police would be able to charge people with traffic offenses or other crimes and then pressure them into immediately paying up. The site stated, “The latest erosion of due process has just been proposed in Texas — allowing the police to charge you with a crime and then charge your credit card on the spot.”
If H.B. 121 authorized cops to issue traffic citations and accept immediate payment, then it would be nothing new. Many states already use the “immediate payment” method of ‘resolving’ traffic citations. If the bill authorized cops to lay other criminal charges and press for payment, then it would be sensational. But this is not the case…yet. It falls somewhere in between.
The bill addresses the arrest procedure for those who have a capias pro-fine warrant; that is, an arrest warrant issued for a defendant who fails to comply with a court ordered judgment. The warrants are common place in cases of overdue alimony, backed-up child support payments, past due fines or unpaid settlements. The bill also addresses the arrest of those who have an outstanding fine and court costs associated with a Class C misdemeanor. In Texas, these ‘crimes’ include theft under $50, leaving a child in a vehicle, disorderly conduct, assisting a suicide, writing bad checks and many other minor infractions.
When a police officer arrests someone in those categories, H.B. 121 would allow him to pull out a credit card reader and give him the option to pay now rather than be hauled to jail. Prisons and courts like the option because it reduces overcrowding in both. City officials and the police like the option because it brings in quick cash with less expenditure.
To “serve and protect” = to “ticket and collect”
The public should be alarmed for several reasons that include:
• There is financial incentive for courts to issue as many warrants as possible;
• There is financial incentive to create charges that result in warrants;
• Police will pressure people to pay, especially if bonuses are involved. For example, they may target people with children and threatened to contact Child Protective Services if an arrest is necessary;
• Police may lie, inflate fines and use fraudulent credit card readers to enrich themselves;
• The readers will make people vulnerable to identity theft;
• Police already have immense personal info on the person; now they will have credit card data as well, which can be easily repurposed.
The bill is also an attack on due process rights. A press release from Representative Allen Fletcher, who sponsored the bill, stated, “HB 121 does not force a payment nor does it deprive an individual of their right to an attorney or their day in court. This option only applies to those with a capias pro-fine warrant or those who have outstanding Class C misdemeanor fines or court costs, or a judgment for fines and court costs if the individual has already been convicted.” Fletcher is an ex-cop, the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and a member of the Transportation Committee.
His statement is disingenuous in at least four ways.
1) Part of due process is a person’s right to appear in court for an assessment by a judge prior to a case proceeding to trial. And everyone has the right to a public trial before being adjudicated “guilty.” The Federalist (Nov. 13) commented that passage of the bill “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’.”
2) Fletcher makes it sound as though the law applies to those convicted of Class C misdemeanors. But the law clearly specifies that it extends to those accused of the “alleged commission of a Class C misdemeanor.”
3) The bill may currently apply only to “capias pro-fine warrant” and outstanding Class C matters but police powers have a marked tendency to expand. This is especially true when the powers bring in revenue. If passed, in a few years time, the police will probably be able to charge people with a wide range of crimes and offer them the option of paying on the spot rather than going to jail. This would have a profound impact on personal freedom. For example, it would be an effective way to discourage the anti-police protests currently unfolding in Berkeley and New York.
4) The bill specifies payment as a choice but that ‘choice’ may be ‘encouraged’ by the police. A parallel situation is a defendant’s ‘right’ to waive a jury trial in felony cases. Across the nation, District Attorneys threaten defendants with exaggerated charges and extreme prison sentences if they do not plead guilty or waive a jury trial. To call this a choice is deceptive.
H.B. 121 is likely to pass. It is being sold as a neutral measure that lightens the load of prisons and courts. It is also said to assist the public by offering a more convenient means of settling debts to the state. A cop with credit card reader may be monitoring you in the near future, hoping you drop a piece of litter or jaywalk him into a bonanza.
(Editor’s Note: In the upcoming issue of TDV Homegrown we discuss how Americans can survive inside Amerika including a special announcement by Jeff Berwick on another addition to the Killer B’s, “Boats” – and how to live freer from the police state on the open water)
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