DESOTO COUNTY, MS -- While Memphis is just starting to collect delinquent parking and traffic ticket fines, DeSoto County is flush with thousands of dollars, all collected from drivers who hadn't paid their tickets until now.
And the offenders brought in the money in themselves. So how did the county get them to do it?
Basically, the court promised people they wouldn't get in trouble. Everyone who owed money had a warrant out for their arrest. The county told them if they paid their fine by April 15th, 2011, they wouldn't be prosecuted. People did pay, and that added up to big bucks.
"Some defendants brought in as much as $1,500 and $1,600 cash to pay the fines off once we started the program," says Judge Ken Adams with DeSoto's Justice Court.
At the beginning of this year, the county was facing $500,000 in unpaid traffic fines. Halfway through it, the county's collected more than a third of that .
"With the amnesty program, you're allowed to come to us, instead of the sheriff's department having to find you," says court clerk Shirley Beshears.
"It helps the county as far as the tax rate and all," says Judge Adams. "And not having to raise taxes and do things we need to do when we bring that kind of money in through this court system."
For six weeks during March and April the justice court promised amnesty to everyone who had an unpaid ticket. The county collected 1,058 unpaid fines bringing in around $170,000.
"It's not a leniency program," adds Adams. "Unlike some cities where fines are waived or cut in half. They still had to pay in full one hundred percent, but it kept them from being arrested."
People owing money on tickets for things like speeding and reckless driving could pay their fine, then have their contempt of court warrant canceled and their record cleared.
"It keeps them from getting arrested at a traffic stop when they're out driving around," Adams says. "It's good for the court system and the defendant."
The program was so successful, the court's planning another round in the near future, but not so often people will make a habit of not paying.
"You can't do it every six months," Adams says. "Because people might just stop paying fines if we do that. They might not pay on time on purpose."
They're thinking about bringing the program back in October 2011, but the court wants to have plenty of time to advertise so as many people as possible pay. Some of the fines that were paid off this year dated back almost 30 years. In Mississippi, tickets never expire, and stay on your record until paid.