City officials explain pay or serve warrants

Hugh Johnson
Posted

Wheat Ridge staff informed state Rep. Sue Schafer that they are opposed to House Bill 14-1061, concerning the elimination of jail time for failure to pay fees.

At the Feb. 3 study session, council held a legislative forum in which they provided recommendations to District 24 Rep. Sue Schafer. One of the items, House Bill, 14-1061 would eliminate jail time for those who don’t pay court fines.

According to City Attorney, Gerald Dahl, the bill is being initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado. Dahl said the ACLU has been investigating “pay-or-serve” warrants. These warrants require defendants to either pay fines monetarily or pay their fines through imprisonment. The practice has invoked the ire of the ACLU who believes it violates the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions and targets those too poor to pay. Joseph Salazar,D-District 31, and Lucia Guzman, D-District 34, are the primary sponsors of the bill.

Another publication recently released an article about pay-or-serve warrants which featured stories from residents who had been jailed. Wheat Ridge was one of the cities highlighted for excessive use of pay-or-serve warrants.

Dahl and Wheat Ridge Judge, Christopher D. Randall, believe the matter is more complicated than simply throwing a person in jail if they cannot pay a fine.

“Nobody is jailed at sentencing who cannot pay a fine. Nobody. Second of all no one is incarcerated who is truly unable to pay a fine,” Randall said.

Randall said that warrants aren’t issued because someone is poor but they are generally issued for failure appear in court, or failure to request a payment plan or some alternative to the sentencing. He also said that most everybody who decides to plead guilty and receives a fine has 30 days to pay it , during which they can apply for a payment plan to alleviate any financial burden. It’s continued delinquencies with no communication that may result in a warrant being issued.

Dahl said that imprisonment is necessary to enforce the payment of fines. He said the city hopes to come to terms on an option that will allow Wheat Ridge to maintain local control.