- Report Published -
|A Study of Required Personal Court Appearances for Minor Nontraffic Offenses|
|Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia|
|Appropriation Act - Item 22 G. (Regular Session, 1999)|
|The statutory authorization of the creation of prepayable offenses represents a legislative determination that certain classes or types of violations are not serious enough to require a personal appearance in court by the defendant. Prepayable offenses are, in effect, standing plea bargains on the part of the Commonwealth to every defendant charged with an offense which has been designated as prepayable. All such defendants have the option to elect to waive trial, to plead guilty to the designated offense, and to pay the set fine and court costs.|
From the perspective of the administration of the district court system, the establishment of prepayable offenses serves a number of related salutary purposes. Most important, the designation of offenses as prepayable permits a significant number of citizens to avoid the inconvenience of having to make personal appearances in court for what have been legislatively determined to be comparatively minor offenses. Since the district courts in Virginia process many thousands of prepayments for minor traffic infractions and nontraffic offenses each year, this represents a meaningful savings of time for many, many citizens. Consequently, eliminating the need for a significant number of citizens to appear in court appreciably reduces the size of court dockets. This, in turn, enables the courts to be more efficient and, further, makes court appearances less inconvenient for those defendants whose offenses do require their personal appearance in court.
Finally, the designation of prepayable offenses is a boon to the collection of fines and costs for the Commonwealth. With the mandatory acceptance of personal checks and credit cards in the district courts, it becomes even easier for the relatively minor offender to literally "pay his debt to society." A prepayment may be made not only in person, but also by telephone through the use of a credit card and by mail through the use of a personal check or a credit card. Since many of the prepayable offenses involve activities such as driving, hunting and fishing, which may not be committed in the offender's home jurisdiction - and are often committed by offenders who do not reside in Virginia - the prepayment system allows for the collection of fines and costs in instances where the minor offender otherwise may well have chosen simply not to appear in court. The collection of fines and costs from defendants tried and convicted in absentia is much more difficult and appreciably more costly for the Commonwealth than is the collection of prepayments for fines and costs.