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Baton Rouge misdemeanor jail may open in August

Miss a day in court over an overdue traffic ticket and you could end up in jail. That's the reality facing Baton Rouge residents since the state legislature passed a measure approving the creation of a misdemeanor jail in East Baton Rouge Parish. The bill is just a governor's signature away from approval and an August effective date.

The legislation is part of a "get tough" approach to crime favored by lawmakers, who believe if they clamp down on small offenses the overall Baton Rouge crime rate will drop. As part of the bill, the offender would pay a $50 warrant fee on top of money owed for outstanding tickets. The money collected would be used to fund the jail.

Misdemeanor jail had a trial run. For two weeks, people who skipped court over speeding tickets and misdemeanor summonses were locked up. The district attorney said during that time, the local crime rate plummeted 20 percent.

An amendment to the bill limits the amount an individual pays at one time for ticket violations - a maximum of four tickets would be collected simultaneously. A second amendment lowers the warrant fee for misdemeanors to $25. Judges have the option to waive the fee if circumstances warrant it.

While the bill's proponents are certain a misdemeanor jail will add "legitimacy" to law enforcement, the proposed law could be a nightmare for local residents. A speeding ticket isn't likely to get you fired from a job – unless driving is your job – but time in jail can have a serious effect on employment. An individual jailed for a missed court date could suffer income loss and family problems.

The bill hasn't been signed by the governor yet, but it's likely to be. Criminal defense attorneys are preparing to help clients concerned about the implications of misdemeanor jail. Residents in the area should learn about their options when it comes to traffic violation incarceration.

Source: The Times-Picayune, "Baton Rougeans could soon be jailed for overdue traffic tickets: Snapshot" Emily Lane, May. 15, 2014

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