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Verber Salazar: COVID-19 is reason not assess fines for ‘non-serious infractions’
CHP ticket

The San Joaquin County District Attorney wants to do away with the fines associated with things like speeding tickets, infractions, and misdemeanors.

This week Tori Verber Salazar, the county’s top prosecutor, sent a letter to San Joaquin County Presiding Judge Xapuri Villapudua outlining her office’s stance on the fines and fees that are associated with non-serious infractions of the law – explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic is playing a role in preventing residents who run afoul of the law from meeting their financial obligations under the current system.

The end result, she said, is that more people are being forced into desperate situations and even homelessness. Her office is looking at ways to alleviate those situations while at the same time preserving the integrity of the law.

As of today, Verber Salazar wrote in her letter, deputy district attorneys will now begin requesting that the court waive all fees for infractions and misdemeanors with the exception of those that are required by legal statue or those that are DUI-related.

“As you are aware 40 percent of our population cannot withstand a $400 household emergency, let alone the high fines and fees attached to infractions, traffic violations, and misdemeanors,” Verber Salazar wrote in her letter to the presiding judge. “These punitive fines, coupled with the additional costs such as towing fees and DMV fines, are contributing to the homeless crisis in our community. Imposing excessive fines does not achieve justice, but rather places an undue burden upon the families struggling during this health and economic pandemic and the community and faith-based organizations supporting them.

“Research has shown these fines and fees disproportionately impact people of color and those struggling financially. As officers of the Court, I believe we can achieve our goal of providing justice with a less harmful impact on the community.”

But not everybody agrees that simply doing away with fines that can act as a deterrent is the best course of action for the county to pursue.

According to the Manteca Police Officers Association, the move by the District Attorney could directly lead to the community that they are sworn to protect becoming less safe – an unintentional byproduct of what appears to be a well-intentioned move.

“We understand that no one likes to pay fines,” the Manteca Police Officers Association board said in a statement. “Fines are an important deterrent in protecting our citizens from unsafe and or illegal behavior.

“Eliminating the fines would cause our roads and our communities to become less safe.”

Verber Salazar took over the office she now heads in 2015 and ran unopposed in 2018 to secure a second four-year term.

She made waves in the legal community earlier this year when she announced that she would be leaving the California District Attorney’s Association over what she felt were differing ideologies on how to approach criminal justice reform in California. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.