Warrants for unpaid fines up by more than 50 percent

Sharna Johnson

The number of warrants for unpaid fines issued by Curry County Magistrate Court has increased by more than 50 percent over last year.

As of Friday, there were 948 outstanding warrants for cases where fines have not been paid to the courts, according to a list of warrants provided by the courts.

Totaling $375,213, the fines range from as the lowest at $16 to $1,745 and are owed for unresolved court costs for petty misdemeanors or traffic cases.

While some of the cases are carried over from years past, the list has grown by more than 300 over what it was the same time last year.

Tough economic times are probably to blame, said Warrant Enforcement Clerk Norma Delarosa.

Tighter finances make it harder for people to maintain their auto insurance and vehicle registration, she said, and likewise, they can’t afford the fees that go with the ticket they receive.

“They’re not able to pay as much as they were prior years,” she said. “A lot of people do come in and state that they were either laid off or can’t find a job, but there are alternatives.”

Delarosa said the people for whom warrants have been issued are those who have failed to meet payment arrangements and aren’t talking to the courts about their debt.

Most have either forgotten they owe the money or aren’t coming in because they are afraid they will be arrested.

With an average of 30 days granted to pay a debt to the court, Delarosa said a warrant is issued the day after the agreement is violated by non-payment.

If someone comes into contact with law enforcement or is pulled over for a traffic offense, the warrants will show up in the system and result in their arrest.

Delarosa said their bond will be set at the amount of their fines plus an additional $100 bench warrant fee and they will be held until it paid.

For three years, the court has gone public with the list in the hopes people will realize they owe a debt and come in to pay it.

“We’re not by any means trying to embarrass anybody,” she said. “We just want to make the public aware so they can get this stuff taken care of and they’re not surprised by being arrested.”

In August, Delarosa said the court launched an online payment system for people with outstanding warrants in the hopes that giving them an alternative to coming in might encourage more payments.

“A lot of the public is afraid. They think it’s a scheme of ours to get them in so they can be arrested,” she said.

Delarosa said defendants, their family or friends can pay using credit card, debit or personal check and as soon as payment is confirmed, the warrant is canceled immediately. There is a convenience fee of $10 for debit or credit and $5 for electronic check, she said.

For people without Internet access, they can call the courts and clerks will help them process their payment.

The court’s objective is to settle the debts, not to have people arrested, Delarosa said and the hope is having increased technology for payment over the phone with a clerk or online will also increase compliance, and that it, “lessens the fear of being arrested and it makes it more convenient for those who live out of town to pay.”

To make online payment, visit: www.msbpay.com/newmexico/ or call 762-3766