How a Traffic Ticket Can Ruin Your Life
In 2014, a gentleman appeared before me owing several thousand dollars in traffic fines, late fees and assessments. He was a very typical man, one you might see at your local grocery store or on the street. Because traffic matters are also criminal matters, he had been in and out of jail having been arrested on bench warrants on the traffic cases. Like many folks, he was struggling at the time and desperately trying to provide for his family by keeping a roof over his head and food on the table. Work had been inconsistent, and his driver’s license and insurance costs had, as is often the case, been placed at the end of the list of things needing payment. When arrested, it was easier for him to scrape together the money to pay for a bond, including bonding fees to the court, so he could get out of jail and keep providing for his family.
On the day he appeared before me, he came to court from work having recently gotten a permanent job. It was easy to see the stress on his face, worried about what would happen that day. He brought some money with him and it was clear the money he brought was all the money he had at the time. Hoping to put him at ease, I asked about his job and his family. He told me about his struggle, how he was trying. Sometimes, in courtrooms, someone has a story and people who have checked out lean in. His story resonated, sounded familiar and captivated.
Here was a man, like so many, trying to do the right thing when every day was a struggle. This was a man, like so many, for whom twenty dollars might be the difference between paydays. This particular gentleman had been in and out of jail on multiple occasions, having paid his base traffic fines many times over when you took into account the amount of money he had paid in bonding fees and what he had been able to pay on his own. He also had his license and insurance current.
Considering the circumstances of his case, I excused the balance of his fines and closed his case. It got quiet in the courtroom and he stood there for a minute unclear what to do. His faced squeezed together and he cried as he walked out of the courtroom. It stayed quiet in the courtroom for a while.
This man and his case have always stayed with me. It was a lesson in listening, in realizing everyone has a story that demands to be heard. It was a lesson in realizing how difficult the criminal justice system can be, how complex, challenging and oftentimes impossible to negotiate. Our best judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and victim’s advocates understand these circumstances, often going above and beyond to listen patiently. Our citizens and neighbors deserve no less.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heidi Almase is a former Las Vegas Municipal Court judge who created and presided over the Serious Traffic Offenders Program, a program designed to compassionately address individuals who had picked up multiples traffic violations with the goal of increasing safe driving while reducing the financial burden associated with multiple traffic tickets. As a former judge, Heidi also created the City’s first Mental Health Court, a program designed to get those persons diagnosed with mental health issues out of the jail system and into stable housing with medication and counseling oversight. Heidi has lived in Las Vegas since 1979. Having dropped out of school during her junior year, Heidi obtained her GED and worked her way through college as a custodian for the Clark County School District. Heidi is a former State of Nevada peace officer and has been a licensed attorney for nearly twenty years. Former Judge Heidi Almase is running for Family Court, Department X in 2020. For more information, please visit https://heidialmase4judge.com.