Why do people confuse the original offense with non-compliance follow on penalties?

After keeping up with the news recently, it seems that a huge chunk of the population has some kind of fundamental logical disconnect between people who commit an original offense of some sort, and any follow-on penalties for not actually complying with the requirements of that first offense, be it coming to court, paying a fine, etc…

Hypothetical example:

Person gets repeated speeding tickets. Person fails to pay tickets OR show up to court on the appointed days. Warrant is made for person’s arrest. Person gets arrested, loses job due to unauthorized absence from work.

People start crying and getting angry because “Person lost job because of PARKING TICKETS! How is this just?” Et-cetera, ad nauseam.

WTF? They weren’t hauled to jail because of their parking tickets. They were hauled into jail because they refused to pay them or to show up to court. It’s a totally separate second offense.

Then if you explain it, the same people start frothing about how having to you know, actually PAY a speeding ticket or actually show up to court is somehow intolerably onerous.

So I ask, what is the court system to do exactly? Let people opt out of penalties and court dates? Most places let people set up payment plans for that kind of thing already.


There is a debate that recognizes that paying money for an offense is an unnecessary burden on people who do not have money.

They say that because that’s what it amounts to. Look at the studies of the justice system in Ferguson, Missouri. Local government was being funded by an oppressive police state, handing out tickets for petty or trumped up actions, such as walking in the wrong place.

People didn’t pay fines or failed to show up to court because they were largely unable to afford the fines, or unable to afford time off to go to court, or didn’t have transportation to go to court, or decided it was futile because the system was stacked against them.

What it amounted to was a system that punished you for being poor, and piling on penalty after penalty resulting from that.

It reveals a fundamentally unjust system. And it starts with the petty ticket issued at the start. That’s why people say it’s all because of the ticket. All the rest wouldn’t have happened without it.

As to what you do, when you have this fundamental failure in the justice system, you seek to correct it at a fundamental level. You don’t just throw up your hands and continue to impose harsher and harsher penalties on the people trapped in the system. It’s futile, and it accomplishes nothing but ruin people’s lives.

I’m not talking about bail though; it’s the conflation of separate penalties that confuses me.

And I get the idea that fines are more onerous to people with less money, but barring some kind of income-based penalty scheme, how would relatively trivial misdemeanors like traffic tickets be punished? Legal penalties are not supposed to be comfortable, after all.

Policy debates in this country tend to have people talking past each other, because some like to focus on the individual and some like to focus on the overall effect of a policy.

On an individual level, we all live in the system and its our own responsibility to understand the system and to abide by it, and people who get caught up in cascading fines for non-compliance generally have made a series of poor decisions to get to that point.

On a policy level, if your system is ruining peoples’ lives for minor infractions, well, like Ascenray said, it doesn’t seem right to just throw your hands up in the air and do nothing. The intent of parking tickets isn’t to ruin lives, so if that’s ultimately what’s happening, then maybe there’s a bad policy or two in there somewhere.

A little bit of background- the news story that brought this to mind was one where a woman had a large number of outstanding speeding tickets- so many that they issued a bench warrant for her arrest. She got hauled into jail in some podunk Nevada town, whereupon she had some kind of drug-withdrawal related seizures and issues, and the podunk deputies handled it abysmally, and she died.

Of course, the offenderati on Reddit are howling about “She died for SPEEDING TICKETS!” when in fact, she disregarded the whole legal system to the point where they issued a warrant for her arrest, and that’s why she was in jail in the first place, after being pulled over for speeding yet again. For the record, the woman was not poor, and she was white.

I’m not defending the jailers here- they failed in their responsibility to this woman entirely. What I am contesting is that it was the way her traffic ticket offenses was handled that led to this- she did NOT die because of traffic tickets. She died because some clowns in a rural jail didn’t handle the situation correctly.

I didn’t mention bail. But it’s you who is insisting that it’s a separate penalty, when it all flows from one initial act with the predictable consequences of applying the rules of the system.

Do you? They’re not just “more onerous.” Small fines can, by the operation of the justice system, can ruin your life, trap you in an endless maze if you are just below the line of resources and privilege that allow you to escape them.

I received a ticket for having an expired inspection sticker. I took a few hours off work to get my car inspected, and then another few hours off work to go to court to show that I had complied. The judge reduced my fine, but I still had to pay court costs. All-in-all, for several hours of leave from work, I saved only $20.

Imagine if I’m someone who (1) can’t afford the inspection, (2) can’t get permission from work to take time off for either and would get fired if I did, (3) can’t afford the court costs.


Maybe you have to fundamentally rethink the system, then, think about what it means to enforce the law and what are effective ways of enforcing it, and think about when a penalty, as opposed to something else, is the best solution.

Think about someone like me, to whom the system has effectively imposed a trivial penalty. Sure, it cost me something, but in the long run, it’s nothing to me.

And then think about someone without my resources, who can’t do any of these things without suffering a penalty no matter what choice he or she makes.

Why bar an income based penalty scheme?

For a wealthy person a $50 parking ticket is comfortable, or if not exactly comfortable, it’s a negligible discomfort. Need to go to court? Take a personal day.

For a less wealthy person, let’s say their take home is $20,000 per year, and they spend half of that on rent/utilities, a $50 ticket is a full third of their weekly fungible income. That’s a “lets spend 2 weeks eating nothing but Ramen and peanut butter sandwiches” type of punishment. So they’re going to what, take a day off of work to go to court? They probably lose more income than the ticket cost in the first place, then surprise here’s a court fee instead of a ticket fee!

Rather than thinking about it as a cognitive disconnect, see it as a recognition of the precarious position that poor people are in. Something that should be a modest inconvenience can rapidly snowball into a life changing problem due to a lack of resources to manage it.

Lots of people think that the rules don’t apply to them, because of their own special circumstances. Add to that the conviction that ‘if I just ignore it, it will go away.’ And some other people are enablers.

And as long as you don’t get caught, and even sometimes when you do, the consequences are easier than paying for insurance, or not speeding, or whatever.

Yes, but it is easier - not better, easier - to just blow it off and not bother with your court date. Sure, the judge might issue a warrant, but that won’t affect you until you are busted for something else. And that’s way in the future. If they could abide by a payment plan, they would have insurance already.

There are two ways of looking at it.
[ul][li]I can’t afford to pay the fines, so I better not speed or drive without a license. Vs.[/ul][ul]I can’t afford to pay the fines, so you should let me speed or drive without a license.[/ul]Punishment is supposed to hurt. You are supposed to want to avoid the punishment enough to avoid the behavior that leads to the punishment. If the fine for speeding was $10, so poor people could afford it, you are going to get a lot more people, rich, poor, or middle-class, speeding. [/li]

Reminds me of the “Last Straw Fallacy” only in reverse. The woman died for speeding tickets just like the baseball team lost because the last batter struck out?

The whole thing turns around for matters more serious than parking tickets. When someone is pulled in after not showing up in court for an assault charge they’ll say they were arrested for an outstanding warrant and neglect to mention the original crime. Either way this works people are just trying to minimize their offense.

“People” aren’t “trying to minimize” offenses. They’re seeking true justice. A woman shouldn’t be dead in a jail cell in this situation.

Things like this should be prompting us to fundamentally rethink what we are doing with our law enforcement system.

Why is the the case that a group of officers—podunk or not—can be so unprepared to adequately respond to the physical and mental health needs of people on their care?

And you can nitpick on the details of any one incident (she’s no angel), and this avoid ever addressing the fundamental questions of justice.

You’re still missing the point- had she not died, would anyone have uttered a single peep that she was hauled into jail for the warrant? I doubt it- that’s what happens when you fundamentally ignore the legal system repeatedly.

That’s my point- she wasn’t jailed unfairly. She wasn’t handled correctly when in jail, but that’s a different thing entirely than why she was in jail. She died because her jailers were incompetent. There’s no defense for them whatsoever. But she didn’t die because of “speeding tickets”. That’s not why she died- she died because there were incompetents working at that particular jail.

But people seem to be wound up because she was in jail in the first place, which baffles me. What do they expect- the courts to just go “Oh well, she doesn’t feel like paying her fines or coming in to court to contest the tickets. I guess we’ll just wait until she comes around.”?

A woman dead in a jail cell after being arrested for a minor violation has nothing to do with minimizing an offense. Nobody should end up dead in a jail cell for any offense and dead people don’t characterize what they were arrested for. People minimize their offenses even when treated justly.

…you do realize that **you **are the one who is wound up about this right?

This thread is all about how **you feel **about a few comments on reddit. It isn’t about someone being jailed unfairly or not. Its about somebody else holding an opinion on the internet and that particular opinion annoys you.

So somebody on the internet has a different opinion to you. Whats the actual debate here?

It’s not just this one case; it’s an attitude I keep running across- this one just happened to be more annoying than most, since there aren’t the mitigating circumstances of poverty.

I didn’t read your first post, we’re arguing different facets of this issue. I’m not really clear what the OP’s point is. I’m saying that independently of just process and outcomes people will minimize their offense. When justice is not served, when the outcome is maximized, comparison to the minimum can be reasonable.

I think often people are conflating the general case with the specific case.

This woman should not have died due to speeding tickets. That’s the specific case. The general case is, should people be taken into custody for speeding tickets, knowing that a very small percentage of the time, they will die in custody? You can never reduce human error to zero.

How should we fundamentally rethink our justice system to deal with the lady who died? She wasn’t poor, so it wasn’t a matter of not being able to pay her tickets (presumably). Even if she was, there are less onerous options available, like a payment plan, or community service, or maybe dropping some of the tickets if she pays the rest and completes a safe driver course, or something like that. But she never showed up for her court date. Should she therefore be brought into custody? There is a chance she might die from her drug issues, whatever they were.

So what do we do with her? Not arrest her, and let her speed along her merry way until she kills someone and/or herself? That’s not just either, and I expect the chance that she might get into an accident is at least as great as her dying in jail.

Yes, she should not have died, and if the deputies were negligent or malicious they should be sanctioned accordingly. But that doesn’t address the issue of what to do about speeders who blow off their court dates.


Exactly this.

Some posters should watch a tv judge show sometime. It seems like every time the case involves a car accident, the defendant doesn’t have valid insurance.

“I have to drive my kids to school, or I have to drive to work” is NOT an excuse to break the law.

If one doesn’t have valid license/registration/insurance, you cannot drive. Full stop.

This is not rocket surgery.

This QFT.
Just look at the people on the highway that cut people off, drive on the shoulder during rush hour, drive to the end of a merge lane then force their way in, think they have a right to change lanes by signaling (or just pointing to the lane) even if you are there, park in no parking zones, take up 2 (or more) parking spaces, etc.

Those are the sort of people that let tickets go and don’t pay them then when arrested on a warrant for 15 unpaid parking tickets or a speeding ticket that has grown from $200 to $1500 with fines and interest complain that it is “just about the ticket(s)”. It’s not. It’s your flagrant middle finger to obeying the law/social contract of driving to begin with and that you’re a special snowflake that should be exempt from all rules that inconvience you so af course being held accountable is totally unfair to YOU and being in that situation is totally NOT your fault.