CHP Officer - Traffic Tickets

CHP Officer Sean Deise sits in his cruiser as he writes out a ticket for a window tint violation during a traffic stop at the Eastmont Town Center in East Oakland, CA Thursday March 7th, 2013. Oakland officials have approved funding to pay for California Highway Patrol officers to help Oakland Police in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. (Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle)

By Bob Egelko
Posted:    March 18, 2016
Updated: March 18, 2016 – 7:09pm

When U.S. Justice Department officials warned state courts this week that soaring financial penalties for low-level wrongdoing might be damaging people’s lives, they could have had Mariah Robinson in mind.

Robinson, 28, of San Francisco, lost her driver’s license for failing to pay fines and surcharges of about $4,000 on a half-dozen traffic tickets. And she said the tickets weren’t even hers, but were issued to another driver who somehow got her license information and gave it to police each time.

She said she’s gotten some of the tickets removed from her record but her license was still suspended, something Robinson was unaware of until November, when police pulled her over for an alleged traffic violation as she was heading toward the Bay Bridge. She was ticketed then, not for a traffic violation, but for driving with an invalid license.

“I can’t get around,” said Robinson, a single mother of four. She said she makes clothes for a living and has had to find other ways to travel to her suppliers, meet her clients and take two of her children to school. She’s also going to court to try to recover her license.

“How is that helping anything, the fines being so high?” she asked. “Where does the money go?”

She’s not alone.

In April 2015, a report found that the driver’s licenses of 4.2 million Californians had been suspended because they hadn’t paid traffic tickets or the increasing surcharges attached by local courts, and that poor people were the hardest hit. The Legislature responded with an amnesty law, which reduced debts on overdue tickets issued before January 2013 and enabled more than 58,000 drivers to recover their licenses as of Dec. 31, according to the state Judicial Council.

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