Champaign County Residents catch a break with Amnesty Week
A new effort by Clerk Katie Blakeman and State’s Attorney Julia Reitz seeks to ease the financial burden many in this County face as a result of past due or unpaid fees and fines.
Residents of the county with unpaid traffic tickets or criminal case fines and fees that are past due will get a financial break, and in some cases a return of their driving privileges as county officials host the first ever Amnesty Week. From October 2nd to October 6th, participants in the program will have an opportunity to avoid collection fees and interest if they agree to pay the total of the originally ordered court fines and fees in their case. By law, when defendant in a traffic, DUI, or criminal case does not pay fines and court costs ordered by the judge, additional interest and collection fees can be charged. Unsurprisingly, this makes an already financially untenable situation near impossible to get out from under for those least able to afford their fines and fees. Currently, Champaign county sends these cases to Harris and Harris (a chicago-based collection agency) if the due date is missed by more than 90 days. The terms of the program were negotiated by the County’s Chief Prosecutor, State’s Attorney Julia Rietz. As Chief Prosecutor, Rietz holds the contract with Harris and Harris, and was instrumental in helping negotiate the terms of the amnesty program. To accommodate those seeking amnesty, the Clerk’s office is offering extended office hours at the courthouse in Urbana, and will also accept payments by mail if postmarked by Friday, October 6th. Those who pay all of their overdue traffic fines during Amnesty Week may even qualify to have their driving licenses reinstated. The savings for those who take advantage of the program could be significant (up to 30% for some). As evidence, program officials offer the example of a misdemeanor defendant who was ordered to pay $200 in fines and $500 in court costs. This individual missed the payment date ordered by the judge and could accrue another $300 in late fees and collection fees. As you can imagine, to someone who missed the payment due date as a result of their inability to pay, an additional $300 in fines becomes an insurmountable obstacle. As a result of that inability to pay, that individual (depending on the nature of their charge) may have also had their license revoked. Thanks to Amnesty Week, that individual will only be responsible for the initial fine and court costs, and (again, depending on the nature of the case) have their license reinstated. What this could mean to many in this county who are buried under ever increasing court costs, fines, and fees shouldn’t be difficult to appreciate.
“This is a great opportunity for customers who have delinquent fines and fees to settle their accounts, and move forward while saving a substantial amount of money. It is also the best time for customers to pay any outstanding fines and fees, in order to avoid future penalties” says Katie Blakeman. This is a fantastic opportunity for residents of the county, and injects some much needed compassion into a system that is often viewed as heartless and overly (and depending on who you ask, unfairly) punishing. The efforts of Clerk Blakeman and State's Attorney Rietz to bring this program to this community is something we need more of in local government. Amnesty Week is something this community desperately needs, and I hope to be writing about the successes of the inaugural Amnesty Weekend this time next year as the program returns for year two. For those interested in taking advantage of this program, the schedule and forms of payment accepted are listed below: Hours:
Monday, Thursday, Friday – 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Tuesday, Wednesday – 7:30 AM to 6:30 PM
Forms of Payment:
All cases must be paid in full, no partial payments
In person – cash, cashier’s check, money order, credit card with valid government photo id
By mail - cashier’s check, money order. Must be postmarked by Friday, October 6th