Tupelo police, city court to crack down on fines

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo Police Department and city court are giving citizens a heads-up that they will be cracking down on unpaid fines and traffic tickets following Memorial Day.
“We want to encourage you to take care of your fines,” said Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton. “Come to city court and take care of outstanding fines so we don’t have to take you to jail. We don’t want to do that.”
The police department will be sending officers out to knock on the doors of people with outstanding warrants for unpaid fines beginning in two weeks.
If a traffic citation is written in Tupelo, the driver is given seven to 10 days before a court date. Drivers who miss the initial court date will be given a 10-day grace period to pay the fine or see a judge to work out a pay agreement.
“If you have to do a pay agreement because your pay period comes every two weeks, then we can work with you,” said Court Director L.P. Montgomery. “As long as you keep us in the loop, we’re willing to work with you.”
Those who can’t afford their fine can talk to a judge about participating in a work program.
“If people can’t pay their fine, we have a work program to help keep the city clean,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. “They can come work off their fine.”
Once the 10-day grace period passes without the fine being paid or a pay plan being established, a contempt of court warrant will be issued for the fine recipient.
When a warrant is issued for a traffic violation, the violator’s driver’s license is automatically suspended.
The next time that driver’s license is run, whether at a road block or a traffic stop, the officer who runs it will be notified of the outstanding warrant and ordered to arrest the violator on the spot.
A speeding ticket for going 15 miles per hour over the speed limit costs $157. If it goes unpaid 10 days after a court appearance a $10 court fee and $25 warrant fee are tacked on.
To reinstate a suspended license costs $25.
A speeding ticket can turn into a $192 fine and a $25 reinstatement fee in 20 days and if it goes unpaid and, the violator is pulled over by a law enforcement officers, they will also receive an additional $322 fine for driving with a suspended license.
Each person served with a contempt of court warrant is taken to the Lee County Adult Jail until they can go before a judge. Municipal judges hold court Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays meaning a Thursday-night arrest can result in three days of jail time.
Between May 18 and 21, 12 contempt off court warrants were served in Tupelo during the course of standard traffic stops.
Carleton said he wants everyone to know they can go to city court and pay their fines and avoid turning a smaller traffic offense into jail time.
Montgomery said the court issues between 3,000 and 3,500 warrants each year with 60 percent of them being for unpaid traffic tickets and delinquent pay agreements.
Reed said the city has taken in approximately $100,000 less in court fines than expected this fiscal year.
jb.clark@journalinc.com