Have you heard about the city of New Orleans’ new policy of eliminating plea bargaining in traffic courts? It’s becoming a rather big deal in the Big Easy.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu a few weeks ago made the decision to try out forcing people to either pay the entire ticket the cops write them – which is usually grossly trumped up and contains several counts of traffic violations so as to pile up the fines and give the government a better bargaining position – or go to court and face even greater costs and fees.
The defense attorneys screaming that this will clog up the courts in New Orleans are correct, of course, but on the other hand New Orleans has too many judges and it looks like Landrieu might be attempting to fill up their dockets with activity that – lo and behold – carries with it revenue enough to pay for itself.
Instead of plea-bargaining your tickets down to $300 or less, now you’re on the hook for $1,000 or $1,500 – or you can go to court and perhaps get stuck for that much plus a lot more in court costs, attorney’s fees and other expenses – not to mention the imposition on your time to sit in a courtroom all day waiting for your case to come up.
It’s a bluff, of course, because the NOPD doesn’t have the officers to spare sitting in court waiting to testify.
And what’s also driving this is New Orleans might actually have better drivers. In 2011, the city took in $6.4 million in traffic fines. This year’s projections show $5 million is the likely revenue figure. And since the city depends on traffic fines as part of its revenue, the pressure is to cite every motorist the cops can find with every violation imaginable. And while the excessive citations used to be plea-bargained away, now the city wants that whole $1,000 for everything the cops wrote you up for. And you can bet it’ll become policy to pull the cops off the street and into the courthouse to make sure you get stuck paying that $1,000.
But here’s the thing – who does this affect most? Poor black people, who comprise a disproportionate share of the Orleans Parish population and also get a disproportionate share of the traffic tickets in New Orleans. Eliminating plea bargaining in traffic court clobbers them with jacked-up costs they can’t afford, and/or imposes a hit on time they need to be making money. The white lawyer from Jones Walker who gets a ticket for speeding and letting his inspection sticker expire might just write a painless check and pay the ticket; the black janitor at the Hilton Riverside just lost his disposable income for the month.
Landrieu’s crackdown on the traffic ticket bazaar now puts New Orleans on the road to Ferguson – as the city’s predation on its majority-black population where traffic fines were concerned was listed by the Justice Department as a major part of what it saw as abuse of the black community…
The Justice Department also revealed that driving the uneven hand of the law in Ferguson was “the city’s emphasis on revenue generation.”
City officials repeatedly pushed the Ferguson police department to increase city revenue through ticketing, resulting in disproportionate targeting of African-Americans.
“Many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue,” the probe concluded.
African-Americans were disproportionately targeted by those practices, ticketed and cited for minor violations at a higher rate than white residents.
And African-Americans were almost exclusively on the receiving end of some violations: They accounted for 95% of “manner of walking in roadway” charges and 94% of “failure to comply” charges, for example.
It’s an atrocious policy, and Landrieu really ought to be accused of racism for promulgating it. But it’s just one more example of big government getting bigger in New Orleans.