Following a deadly Concan wreck that killed 13 people in Uvalde County, city of Uvalde municipal court Judge Andrew Hagen has increased fines for minor moving violations from $75 to $150.
The announcement was made Tuesday during a city council meeting when Hagen updated council on municipal court happenings and key changes from recent legislative sessions, including a ban on texting while driving.
“I have increased fines from a standard fee of $75 for moving violations to $150 for a lot of different types of offenses, and the reason I made that decision is because of public safety,” Hagen said. “These are things such as running a red light or stop sign, [and] failure to give right of way.”
Hagen said minor moving violations are often the cause of major motor vehicle accidents. Hagen said driver safety courses will be offered in place of a fine for motorists looking to avoid the financial burden.
“This has been on my mind since the deadly accident we had on the north part of the county,” Hagen said. “I don’t anticipate that will will see any additional revenue out of it because for the most part people will take a driver safety course. It is more of a deterrent effect.”
Hagen said he is still in the process of collecting past due fines, which total nearly $2.9 million and date back to 2006.
When a citation is issued, a notation lists the last day by which the person cited must respond to the court. Reminders and/or warnings are not issued prior to the court date or after if the cited person does not make an appearance.
If the person does not appear or fines are not paid within 61 days, the citation is sent to a law firm for collections and an arrest warrant can be issued.
“We are still collecting past due fines, which is an ongoing thing,” Hagen said. Hagen also asked council to consider hiring an alternate judge.
“When I have to recuse myself due to conflict of interest, that person will be assigned the case. The city would have to pay for that person’s training but it wouldn’t be a huge expense,” Hagen said. “It is an annual training of a couple hundred dollars.”
Hagen also touched on the statewide ban on texting while driving that went into effect Sept. 1.
According to the ban, a driver may not read, write or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. If a motorist is cited and found guilty, the offense is punishable by a fine of between $25 and $99 for a first offense and at least $100 and not more than $200 for repeat offenders.
The ban doesn’t impact GPS systems, and talking on the phone while driving will still be legal if the motorist utilizes a hands-free device that only requires them to briefly touch the phone to begin or end a call.
Court costs and fines
According to Hagen, House Bill 351 and Senate Bill 1913 aim to bolster existing protections for low-income criminal defendants by improving the assessment and collection of fines and court costs in courts with criminal jurisdiction, including municipal courts.
Both bills require judges handling cases in open court to inquire about a defendant’s ability to pay during or immediately after imposing fines and costs; increase the minimum amount for jail time credit and community service from $50 to $100 for each day; and prohibit requiring the posting of a bail bond for a fine-only offense unless a defendant has failed to appear.