When court beckons, it's best to answer
Published: Saturday, February 23rd, 2008
Last week's case of a Tucumcari woman who was handcuffed at her business because of a failure to pay fines illustrates that many people do not understand how the payment of fines works, and how important it is to appear in court when summoned, said Tucumcari city manager John Sutherland. For example, if you pay for your fines but have been issued a summons to appear in court, the payment of the fines does not forgive the obligation to appear in court, according to city and court officials. "They still have to appear. They have to respect and comply with the judge's order," said Municipal Court Clerk Paula Chavez. The Tucumcari Municipal Court handles only misdemeanors, Chavez said. Misdemeanor citations range from traffic violations, to first-time DWI offenders, to possession of marijuana of less than ounce, to public nuisance citations for violations of city codes. Since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been 206 cases that have come before Tucumcari Municipal Judge Joe Dominguez, Chavez said. In addition, there are many other instances when people come before the judge to discuss their payments or some other aspect of their citation, she said. Tucumcari's Municipal Court is held in the the City Commission Chambers at City Hall at 215 E. Center St. While many of these offenses could mean jail time, the majority of the cases are cleared through the payment of fines, Chavez said. When a citation is issued, Chavez said, there are two options: l One, the person can come to court to discuss the citation with the judge or to contest it. l Two, sign and pay the penalty assessment. The penalty is due 30 days from the day the citation was issued. If the 30th day falls on a weekend or holiday, the payment is due the next business day. However, if a person decides to appear in court, he or she is asked to come to the court at 8 a.m. (To learn what days the court is in session, call the City Offices at 461-6375.) In addition, if there are outstanding fines from a previous citation, those payments are added to the most recent fine, Chavez said. When a person appears before the judge at their arraignment, the judge reads the person their rights and asks: How do you plea. If the person pleads not guilty, the judge listens to the person's presentation and decides if they are guilty or not. If a person is assessed a fine, they sign an agreement stating how much they will pay and when. Sometimes, the judge will agree to several payments. After signing the agreement, Chavez said, the person receives a "yellow sheet for payments." "This payment sheet is very important," Chavez said, and must be presented at City Hall when a payment is made. Sometimes, a two-week extension can be arranged if the person contacts the court clerk before the due date, Chavez said. However, if the agreed on payment is not made, the judge issues a summons to appear in court. With the summons comes a fee of $25 to cover the court costs. If the person does not appear, then a bench warrant is issued for their arrest for failure to appear. In between the summons and the date to appear in court, the summons fee and fines can be paid, Chavez said. However, the fines must be paid to the court clerk to ensure that the case is marked paid and that the person's name is removed from the judge's calendar for a court appearance. If the payment is not made known to the court clerk, the person is still expected to comply with the summons and appear in court, Chavez said. When a person is arrested, the arresting officer may hold the person at the Tucumcari Police Department or take him or her to the Quay County Detention Center, Chavez said. A person can usually post bond quickly because the bond is $25; and they are required to appear before the judge at the next day of court, Chavez said. For more information contact the Tucumcari Municipal Court Clerk at 461-6375.
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