Once a crime has been committed, a lot of prosecutors stop caring about why and investigate the how. But a large number of observers are worried that minor infractions are snowballing into bigger crimes and bigger charges just because suspects can’t get away from them.
Small fines like traffic tickets can leave people without the means of supporting their lives, like an available car to get to work or even sufficient food. For example, a traffic violation in Ontario County began a chain reaction of further fines and punishments that left the suspect unable to find work or even afford a court-instated plan to cover the original fine.
What the suspect didn’t know is she could request a hearing on the subject of her ability to pay the fine. Courts are allowed to consider the financial state of a suspect, although some suspects don’t know that. Attorneys can also request this move before a minor violation drives people to consider more serious infractions.
“At the moment in New York there is no requirement to consider ability to pay when you fine somebody unless they know they have to request a hearing,” said the leader of a New York advocacy organization. “And the minute that they are fined, they can’t pay.”
People suspected of crimes in New York must be prepared to defend their rights, and there is perhaps no better preparation than engaging the help of an attorney. A lawyer can help find the right defense against an initial charge and work out how to deal with court-ordered fines, jail time or other punishments.