in Houston, Texas
Ignored that traffic ticket from city of Dallas? You’re not alone. Study examines Dallas municipal court
Tuesday, Aug 07, 2012, 08:21AM CST
By Steve Miller

A two-year study of the municipal court system in the city of Dallas delivered a couple of telling facts that we suspect are true in many cities; judges dismiss a high number of cases for a variety of reasons and over 30 percent of court notices are ignored by defendants.

The good news? An increasing number of violators are paying their fines online.

The study, which is also an excellent primer on the function of local city courts, was presented by the city’s managers to the Dallas City Council last week. Municipal courts adjudicate traffic violations as well as a number of lower-level, quality-of-life crimes including prostitution, disorderly conduct and property violations.

The study found that most defendants either ignore their court appearance or roll the dice with a court appearance rather than pay the fine outright for a number of reasons including the “likelihood is the violation will be dismissed or result in less penalty than paying the fine upfront.”

A primary conclusion in the report is that violators are responding to the way the court system works first with regard to the least cost, then the least trouble and last the least damage to their driving record. Good news for auto insurers, which routinely increase rates for driving infractions.

Compared to other cities, from larger ones like Houston to smaller ones like Plano, and counties including Dallas County, the city of Dallas is failing on several levels, the report noted.

In Austin there is a tiered fine system, with a lesser fine for timely payment, while in Dallas there is none. In the city of Garland, defendants are instructed on working out a payment plan for fines, while in Dallas, explanation of the payment system was found to be poor. And in Dallas, a defendant can opt for a courtroom trial to see if the officer is a no-show – a frequent occurrence – but is still eligible to receive a reduced penalty if he loses the case. In Plano, there is no plea deal on a trial date, so most defendants take a deal before the case even gets to court.

The Courthouse News Service delivers its own account of the report here.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of traffic ticket by flickr user marklyon, used via a Creative Commons license.

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