Sen. O’Scanlon: Municipal courts focus too much on revenue
A New Jersey state senator is calling for changes to how municipal courts operate.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon says that municipal courts in the Garden State focus too much on revenue. He says that police officers and judges will sometimes bow to political pressure to write tickets and collect fines.
“That is government turning on its own people and becoming an instrument of plunder…That shouldn't be how we operate and shouldn't be the motivation, especially when we're making our roads less safe,” O’Scanlon says.
A report released by a state Supreme Court panel last month says towns should rely less on fines and fees generated by municipal court cases. O'Scanlon says the report proves the need for changes he has suggested for years.
"The greatest amount of compliance with the least amount of punishment possible. That should be our judges' focus. That should be our police officers' focus and the whole system will be a better place for it,” he says.
The report's recommendations include: Consolidating or regionalizing courts, more training for judges and prosecutors, allowing traffic fines to be deferred through safe driving and "significantly reduce" suspending driver's licenses for failure to pay fines.
"The problem is, some of these people end up in the system and they can't pay the fine and they can never get out,” O’Scanlon says. “That doesn't help us."
O'Scanlon and the report both favor capping penalties and fines to avoid vast fluctuations in punishments from town to town.
"That should be something we pay attention to. The town with the $1,000 fine for the same infraction and no lower rate of the incident happening means that someone is exploiting the system so they can make more money,” he says.
The state Supreme Court's report found municipal courts take in over $400 million each year. More than half of that goes to towns and without any restrictions on how it can be used.