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II. CREATING
STATUTORY UNIFORMITY
RECOMMENDATION 4:
Make the definition of “conviction” consistent in state law.

Background
Most statutes imposing court costs upon offenders for criminal offenses have a standard definition of “conviction.” These statutes generally state:

“In this article, a person is considered to have been convicted in a case if:

  1. a sentence is imposed;
  2. the defendant receives probation or deferred adjudication; or
  3. the court defers final disposition of the case.”27

Some statutes relating to court costs, however, do not define “conviction,” making it unclear whether the same conditions should apply to these costs. These include:

  • Fees for services of peace officers (arrest fees and warrant fees), Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 102.011 (both state and local court costs);
  • Jury fee, Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 102.004 (local court cost);
  • Traffic fines, Tex. Transp. Code Ann. sec. 542.403 (local court cost); and
  • Failure to Appear, Tex. Transp. Code Ann. sec. 706.006.

Since these statutes do not contain the usual definition of conviction, questions and problems often arise concerning their application in cases of deferred adjudication or deferred disposition. Many cities and counties would like to see a clarification of the state’s legal definition of conviction. They recommend the following language be used for each state court cost, including those discussed above:

“In this article, a person is considered to have been convicted in a case if:

  1. a judgment and/or sentence is imposed on the person;
  2. the person receives community supervision, deferred adjudication ordeferred disposition; or
  3. the court defers final disposition of the case or imposition of the judgment and sentence.”28

Recommendation
A single definition of “conviction” should be applied uniformly to all court costs.

A consistent definition could ease local administrative burdens by clarifying which court costs apply in various situations. The definition suggested by the cities and counties should apply to all court costs uniformly.

This proposal would require amendments to:

  • Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. arts. 56.55(c), 102.004, 102.011, 102.019(c), 102.075(l)
  • Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. sec. 56.001(b)
  • Tex. Transp. Code Ann. secs. 542.403 and 706.006

Fiscal Impact
This recommendation would produce no fiscal impact on state funds, but would reduce the administrative burden on cities and counties.

RECOMMENDATION 5:
Section 706.002 of the Transportation Code should be clarified to enumerate the offenses to which the cost for Failure to Appear is applicable.

Background
If a person fails to appear for a complaint, citation, or court order to pay a court cost, fee or fine, the city or county in question may contract with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to include the offender in a DPS database used to prevent the renewal of driver’s licenses until court costs and fines are paid. The offenses that could be handled in this way are listed in Section 706.002 of the Transportation Code, and originally were limited to traffic offenses. As of September 1, 1999, the statute was amended to include “any other offense that a justice or municipal court has jurisdiction of under Article 4.11 or 4.14, Code of Criminal Procedure.”29 This amendment appears to open the door to all offenses, not just those related to traffic.

To put offender information in the database, cities and counties need to know the offender’s exact name, address, date of birth, and driver’s license information. This information is available in traffic cases, but not in some other offenses, including violations of municipal ordinances (such as dog leash laws) and the Education Code (thwarting compulsory school attendance). This makes some offenses impossible to enter into the database.

Recommendation
The language of Section 706.002 of the Transportation Code should be clarified to enumerate the offenses for which the cost for Failure to Appear is applicable.

If the intention of the 1999 amendment was to include any and all offenses under the jurisdiction of a JP or municipal court, the language of Section 706.002 should be clarified to make this intent clear, and provisions enumerated for situations in which the offender’s exact name, date of birth and driver’s license information are not available. If the amendment was not intended to include all such offenses, Section 706.002 should be amended to remove this language.

Fiscal Impact
This recommendation would clarify local administrative and enforcement duties related to the DPS Failure to Appear Program. It would have no fiscal impact on state or local finances.

OTHER FINDINGS
Another area of the law that may merit further study concerns the court cost for the Child Safety Fund, which provides local funding for school crossing-guard programs.30

This fund was created on July 1, 1991, and originally its provisions relating to court costs on criminal convictions applied to all cities and counties. When amendments to the statute became effective on September 1, 1997, the court-cost provision of the subsection was limited to municipalities with a population of 400,000 or more in cases involving traffic offenses in a school crossing zone and the passing of school buses.31 This caused inconsistencies in the law’s application among communities and even among courts in the same community. If an offense is adjudicated in a county-level court (that is, a county or JP court), the court cost is not imposed regardless of the county’s population, because the wording of the 1997 legislation specifically limits the court cost to municipalities.