According to Sheriff Deputy Tyler Free, Lincoln County charges less for bail on traffic tickets and other citations than most of the other counties in the state.
At the county commission meeting June 17, Free made a proposal to the board to consider adding a “fuel tax fee” to the amount of bail given when a citation is written. “And that money goes back into the county and not to the state,” as some other fees do, he added.
Lincoln County is not receiving as much money as some other counties are already bringing in. “I know that we have quite the budget issues every year and this could be a way to help,” he said.
In addition, Free said, “Most of the citations are written on people who are out of state and I would like to see some of that money coming back to us.”
At the same time, Free strongly emphasized his idea is not with the intent of writing more citations in order to bring more money into the county.
“Not a one of us is going to go out and write a citation just to make you guys more money and we would refuse any such request.”
Free pointed out the sheriff’s department is writing between 1,000 and 2,000 citations a year. “If you include what [Lincoln County] Nevada Highway Patrol is doing, the number can fluctuate.”
Adding both agencies together, Free thought there could be as many as 6,000 citations written in a given year.
He mentioned that a $15 increase per citation [on a total of 6,000] “would generate for the county about $90,000.”
He also recommended that if a charge was resolved with a plea bargain, the suspect could still be responsible for court fees.
Commissioners did not take any action, choosing instead to put the item on the July 1 agenda for further discussion with the advice of counsel, court judges, the sheriff and possibly a few others.
District Attorney Dylan Frehner noted that, “The bail is set by the judge, not by the commissioners. All the statutes that I read note it is at the discretion of the judge on a set scale that has been adopted. The only thing the commissioners can set will be certain fees that are authorized by statute. For example, the court improvement fee in which $10 is added for every case, every ticket. The statute authorizes the commission to do that. If there is not a statute that authorizes a given fee, I don’t think you can put one on.”
His opinion was that under the separation of powers, it is for the court to decide if the fees should be raised, not the commission board.
Frehner said it was his strong belief that traffic tickets ought not to be negotiated and agreed with Commission Chair Varlin Higbee that such an action would amount to bribery. “You can’t pay to get out of it.”
Higbee said, “The purpose of traffic tickets and/or business licenses are not there to generate revenue for counties. They are there to control business and in the case of traffic violations, to be punitive so you don’t go out and do it again.”
Frehner noted that two bills in the recently completed Nevada State Legislature that failed to pass “were intended to get rid of bail schedules altogether.”
He didn’t know how the bills would have applied on traffic tickets, “but for anyone who gets arrested on a felony, they would just appear in court and then be released on their own recognizance without a fee or jail time, unless they are a danger to society.”
The bills failed this time around, he said, “but I expect they will come back.”
Frehner thought that in some ways the bills might be a good thing, in that the county would then not have to pay for housing an inmate in jail for a period of time, “but a bad thing in that many who are so released will simply not show up for their trial date and the county then has the cost to go find them.”
He said, “The District Attorney Association is still looking at how we are best going to present this issue [at the 2021 legislative session] rather than trying to get rid of bail altogether. I think we will see a lot more push to lower bail amounts than raise them.”