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Thousands of traffic warrants thrown out due to new law

Updated December 29, 2022 - 11:17 am

Nevada courthouses have quashed tens of thousands of traffic warrants ahead of a law going into effect Jan. 1 that will convert minor traffic violations from criminal misdemeanors to civil infractions.

Las Vegas Municipal Court announced Wednesday that it voided nearly 35,000 traffic warrants to comply with the new traffic violation law and eliminated the fees with those active warrants. North Las Vegas Municipal Court will remove 15,892 warrants. Reno Municipal Court quashed about 1,900 traffic violations that will become civil infractions. Henderson Municipal Court had not yet provided the number of quashed traffic warrants as of Wednesday afternoon.

Reno Justice Court did not have the information on the number of warrants that were quashed solely from the enactment of Assembly Bill 116, court administrator James Conway said. Reno Justice Court had a policy in which it regularly reviewed and purged old traffic warrants after a period of time. Conway could not separate how many warrants were purged in 2022 because of the Assembly bill versus how many were purged because of the court’s policy.

Sparks Justice Court quashed about 392 warrants to comply with the law, said Bethany Drysdale, media and communications manager for Washoe County.

AB116, one of six laws that take effect Jan. 1, decriminalizes minor traffic violations such as speeding and cellphone use and ends the practice of issuing arrest warrants when someone cannot afford to pay the fines. It establishes civil penalties, rather than criminal misdemeanors, for small traffic violations.

As part of the law, a person who committed a minor traffic offense before Jan. 1, 2023, that is punishable as a civil infraction cannot be arrested for the offense. The legislation orders each court in the state to cancel each outstanding bench warrant for a person who failed to appear in the court in response to a citation issued for a civil penalty.

Before the law, Nevada was one of 13 states in the U.S. to prosecute minor traffic violations as criminal misdemeanors rather than civil infractions.

Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement that work to decriminalize minor traffic violations began 10 years ago. Legislation was introduced in 2011 but failed four times. In 2017, an extensive study was conducted that showed how harmful the system was, Nguyen said.

“This law is significant because it ends a cycle of debt that stems from a simple traffic violation that many people find themselves in because they are unable to pay it,” Nguyen said. “People will no longer have to worry that they will be arrested and jailed for their inability to pay fines and fees associated with a traffic ticket.”

Serious traffic offenses such as driving under the influence and driving without a license or auto insurance remain criminal.

With the law, if someone gets pulled over for speeding, using a cellphone or not using a seat belt, the driver will receive a civil citation in which the person has 90 days to respond. If the court finds that the driver committed the infraction, the driver will be subject to a maximum penalty of $500.

According to the Fines and Fees Justice Center, the average person arrested in Clark County on a traffic warrant spends about three days in jail, costing taxpayers more than $400 per day.

Las Vegas residents who want to see if their warrants were quashed can check online at lasvegasnevada.gov/municipalcourt and click “check status of a warrant,” according to a statement from Las Vegas.

People can also call 702-38COURT or visit the customer service counter at the courthouse, located at 100 E. Clark Ave.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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