LOS ANGELES, CA–Jesus Pimentel believes the Constitution is on his side in a lawsuit he filed against the city of Los Angeles.
His ticket for a parking violation quickly spiraled out of control after he missed the two-week deadline to pay and had other fees arbitrarily tacked-on. A $63 fine ballooned up to $175, and the state threatened to take Pimental’s car or make it a crime for him to drive at all. Pimentel argues that this is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines, and his claims aren’t without justification. California’s state constitution has a similar provision, but across the U.S. traffic laws have been crippling people trying to rise out of poverty.
In Florida, more licenses were suspended for failure to pay court costs than for any other reason. As a result of losing their mobility, people found themselves unable to get to work, creating a snowball effect that kept people trapped in the low-income spectrum.
The fines in Pimental’s case amount to 336% of the daily median income an average Latino makes in Los Angeles. If Pimental’s case sets a precedent that these fines disproportionately impact low-income workers, Los Angeles may potentially lose the whole system of extortion that traffic laws have become.