Forsyth DA offers new traffic court program
You’d think the lobby of the District Attorney’s office would be full of chairs and absent of a lot of traffic. That’s not going to be the case for the next couple of months due to “Third Thursday.”
The program is a community outreach initiative of the Forsyth County’s District Attorney’s office and the Ministers’ Conference of Winston- Salem and Vicinity. The first event was held on Sept. 17 and received quite a response, garnering 75 participants.
The office has agreed to help residents who need help “cleaning up minor traffic infractions by disposing of the cases or helping the individual put the case back on an active traffic court docket,” according to flyers being distributed throughout the community. The program is based around helping those who need assistance getting their license back after having them revoked or suspended.
“We’ve been working with the DA’s office to reach out into the community and help those who are in a bad financial situation,” said Rev. Alvin Carlisle, 3rd vice president of the MCWS&V and chair of the Ministry of Social Justice. “We put the word out through local churches and have been distributing the forms throughout the city to see who qualifies.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin has the task of reviewing the cases, then disposing of it or helping that person get back on the traffic court docket.
“We’re concerned about making sure people in the community have a valid driver’s license so they can obtain insurance because it’s better for the entire Forsyth County community,” she said “If people get in an accident they don’t want to be involved with a driver who doesn’t have insurance. We think this benefits not only the people who are working through the program but the entire community.”
Martin said she got the idea after being invited to a panel at a local church in April. She said that a lady, who had previously been an addict and prostitute who accrued several tickets, wanted to know how she could take care of them.
“She said she had been sober for two years and had gotten married but couldn’t find a job because she didn’t have a driver’s license due to those old tickets. I looked up her traffic record, found some failure to appear citations and other issues we resolved at no cost to her enabling her to get her license back,” Martin said. “I thought that maybe we could help other people in the community going through the same thing.”
Martin said that she believes that people don’t often understand that tickets don’t just disappear and there are long-term consequences for not coming to traffic court. The majority of the tickets she has seen are for expired registrations, tags, licenses and various failure to appear citations.
Those seeking assistance are prescreened and have to be in need of a driver’s license, have a case that’s non-violent from the Chapter 20 (Motor Vehicle Code), or prior to 2010, and doesn’t involve alcohol. The prescreening includes a review of the applicant’s driving and criminal record. If the case is disposed of the restoration fee for the license, starting at $75, can’t be waived.
Applicants can have active, unpaid traffic tickets and are also allowed to have a prior criminal record including felonies. Residents who have pending felony charges or DWI charges are not eligible and those who have a DWI conviction could possibly be disqualified depending on the date of the conviction.
Critics of the program are quick to point out that it could be used to make sure voters have identification in the upcoming election and that District Attorney O’Neill has recently announced his intent to run for state attorney general, meaning the program is more about votes than assistance.
Martin said that the office took none of that into consideration when planning the program. They weren’t seeking any publicity and didn’t announce the program wanting to keep things low-key.
“I think that is very unfair and a cynical view of a genuine effort to help people get their licenses back and get their lives back on track. It was just a genuine and generous opportunity from Mr. O’Neill to help people, all kinds of people, and not just minorities. It’s just a chance to help the people of Forsyth County both in the program and not,” she said.
The program seems to be appreciated most by those it helps. Martin said she did not expect this many people to participate.
“One woman said she had not had her license for 14 years and she was CNA and another lady said that every time she left her house she was afraid of being pulled over. This gives them an opportunity to do things the right way,” she said.
Carlisle said that he’s received positive feedback and that has been the most rewarding part of the process.
“We’ve dealt with people who were close to tears and just really happy to get their driving privileges back. We’ve heard from people within the community who don’t benefit from it and they say it’s great,” he said. “If the program ended today we would consider it a huge success.”
The event will continue on October 15, November 19 and December 17. Martin will be in the lobby of the DA’s office from 2:30 to 4:45 p.m.
For information about prescreening, call the district attorney’s office at 336- 779-6310 or email Carlisle at firstname.lastname@example.org. !