General information article on traffic tickets and other violations filed in the Justice of the Peace and Municipal Courts in Texas.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Statute of Limitations on Traffic Tickets and Other Class "C" Misdemeanors in Texas

The discussion here relates to those Texas traffic violations that are classified as Class "C" misdemeanors, and does not include red light camera tickets which, in Texas, are civil rather than criminal matters. 

The statute of limitations on traffic ticket violations and other Class "C" misdemeanors, in Texas, is two years.  Be aware that this does not mean that traffic ticket violations and other Class"C" misdemeanors that are two years or older cannot be prosecuted. What it does mean is that once a violation is two years old, if a complaint has never been filed, then it is barred, and cannot be prosecuted. The complaint is not the citation issued by the officer. The complaint is a formal sworn document which meets the requirements of Chapter 45, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. 

On September 1, 2009, Texas codified it's then existing two year period of limitation on traffic ticket violations and other Class "C" misdemeanors, into the "statute of limitations".
The 2009 amendments to T.C.C.P. 27.14 and T.C.C.P. 12.02, raise two important questions regarding the status of  the period of limitation on Class C misdemeanors prior to the amendments.  First, whether there was any limitation at all?  Second, if so, what tolled the running of the period of limitation? 


Prior to September 1, 2009, was the officer’s citation sufficient to be considered the complaint for the purpose of tolling the period of limitation?

T.C.C.P, Art. 27.14 (d) provides that the citation may serve as the complaint to which the defendant may plead, or even be tried on, if the defendant properly waives the filing of a formal complaint.  The placement of the “may serve as a complaint” language, under Chapter 27, the Criminal Pleading Statute, would suggest that the legislature intended the use of the citation to serve as the complaint only for the purposes of pleading, and not for the purposes of limitation.  Had the legislature intended for the citation to serve as the complaint for limitation purposes, it would have been placed under Chapter 12, the Limitation Statute.

The language in T.C.C.P. 27.14(d) regarding the citation serving as the complaint, was not changed by the 2009 amendment, and reads exactly the same now as it did prior to September 1, 2009. 

Text of subsection effective until September 01, 2009

(d) If written notice of an offense for which maximum possible punishment is by fine only or of a violation relating to the manner, time, and place of parking has been prepared, delivered, and filed with the court and a legible duplicate copy has been given to the defendant, the written notice serves as a complaint to which the defendant may plead "guilty," "not guilty," or "nolo contendere."  If the defendant pleads "not guilty" to the offense, a complaint shall be filed that conforms to the requirements of Chapter 45 of this code, and that complaint serves as an original complaint.  A defendant may waive the filing of a sworn complaint and elect that the prosecution proceed on the written notice of the charged offense if the defendant agrees in writing with the prosecution, signs the agreement, and files it with the court.

Text of subsection effective September 01, 2009

(d)  If written notice of an offense for which maximum possible punishment is by fine only or of a violation relating to the manner, time, and place of parking has been prepared, delivered, and filed with the court and a legible duplicate copy has been given to the defendant, the written notice serves as a complaint to which the defendant may plead "guilty," "not guilty," or "nolo contendere."  If the defendant pleads "not guilty" to the offense or fails to appear based on the written notice, a complaint shall be filed that conforms to the requirements of Chapter 45 of this code, and that complaint serves as an original complaint.  A defendant may waive the filing of a sworn complaint and elect that the prosecution proceed on the written notice of the charged offense if the defendant agrees in writing with the prosecution, signs the agreement, and files it with the court.

There is no case law, statutory or constitutional authority which supports the notion that the citation may serve as a complaint, for purposes of tolling the period of limitation.  The citation may serve as the complaint only in two limited circumstances: when the defendant is not contesting guilt, and when the defendant waives the right to be charged by sworn complaint. (The Recorder, The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, Volume 16, No. 3, May, 2007, Pages 8- 9, Item 22, Under Any Circumstances, Can A Citation Serve As A Complaint?, Item 23, Does the Filing of a Citation toll The Statute of Limitations?, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center).  

Prior to September 1, 2009, the Legislature did not consider the citation sufficient to be the complaint for the purpose of tolling the period of limitation.

Brought to the attention of the legislature, prior to September 1, 2009, was the fact that, in many cases, mostly due to a defendant’s failure to appear, complaints were not timely filed by the courts.  Consequently, once the two year limitation period had run, the case was barred from prosecution.  (Resolution of the Texas Judicial Council, Require Complaint to be Filed if Defendant Fails to Appear), (Bill Analysis, S.B. 413, Author’s/Sponsor’s Statement of Intent, 6/4/2009), (The Recorder, The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, Volume 18, No. 4, August 2009, Pages 6-7, Subject: Mandatory Filing of Complaints Upon Non-Appearance, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center).

Senate Bill 413 amended  T.C.C.P. 27.14(d) to require the courts to toll the period of limitation, by filing the complaint in cases where the defendant fails to appear. The legislative intent, and the subsequent enactment of Senate Bill 413, is proof of the Legislature’s position on the subject in 2009, that the citation did not in fact, toll the period of limitation.  (Bill Analysis, S.B. 413, Author’s/Sponsor’s Statement of Intent, 6/4/2009) (Resolution of the Texas Judicial Council).  The passage of the bill was the legislative remedy to the existing problem resulting from the fact that the citation did not toll the period of limitation. 

The legislature did not add “complaint” to T.C.C.P 12.02 until September 1, 2009.  Doesn’t the omission of “complaint” from the statute prior to September 1, 2009, mean that there was no limtaion on Class C misdemeanors?

Prior to September 1, 2009, T.C.C.P. 12.02 required that an indictment or information be presented within two years from the commission of the offense, but did not mention complaint.

Text of article effective until September 01, 2009

Art. 12.02. MISDEMEANORS.  An indictment or information for any misdemeanor may be presented within two years from the date of the commission of the offense, and not afterward.

S.B. 410, amended Art. 12.02 by adding paragraph (b), requiring that a complaint be presented within two years of from the date of the commission of the offense.


Text of article effective September 01, 2009

Art. 12.02.  MISDEMEANORS.  (a)  An indictment or information for any Class A or Class B misdemeanor may be presented within two years from the date of the commission of the offense, and not afterward.

(b)  A complaint or information for any Class C misdemeanor may be presented within two years from the date of the commission of the offense, and not afterward.


Despite the statute’s failure to mention “complaint” , prior to September 1, 2009, the majority view was that there was a two year period of limitation.  Although, it could be argued that the statute’s failure to mention “complaint” meant there was no limitation, such notion is inconsistent with Texas law, that sets limitations on all but the most serious matters.  The majority view that there was a two year limitation, is further supported by case law.  In the Hoard case, the Court of Criminal Appeals held a complaint in justice court alleging illegal gaming was barred by the two year statute of limitations.  Ex Parte Hoard, 140 S.W.  449, (Tex.Crim.App.  1911).  (The Recorder, The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, Volume 16, No. 3, May, 2007, Page 9, Item 23, Does the Filing of a Citation toll The Statute of Limitations?, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center),  (Resolution of the Texas Judicial Council, Set Statute of Limitations in Class C Misdemeanor Cases), (Bill Analysis, S.B. 410, Author’s/Sponsor’s Statement of Intent, 6/4/2009).


                                                                                                         SUMMARY                                                                                                                    


The law regarding the two year limitation of actions, for Class C misdemeanors, and tolling thereof, was the same prior to September 1, 2009, as it is now.  The amendments to Articles 12.02, and 27.14, neither took away nor added to what was already the law.  Those amendments merely codified the then existing law on limitation, regarding Class C misdemeanors,  into the current “statute of limitation”. 

The September 1, 2009 codification of the statute of limitation does not mean that there was no period of limitation for Class C misdemeanors prior to September 1, 2009.  The Pre-September 1, 2009, majority view, that there was a two year period of limitation, and that it was tolled by the timely filing of a complaint, is supported by case law.

There is no authority supporting the notion that the citation tolled the period of limitation.
Although T.C.C.P.  27.14(d) mentions the citation serving as the complaint, the legislature’s placement of this provision under the Criminal Pleading Statute suggests that the intent was for the citation to serve as the complaint for the limited purpose of defendant’s pleading, but not for tolling the period of limitation.  

Prior to September 1, 2009, the legislature’s position was that the citation, did not in fact, toll the two year period of limitation for Class C misdemeanors.  That position appears to be shared by Texas Municipal Court Education Center.  Because the citation did not toll the period of limitation, the legislature sought a remedy to fix the recurring problem of barred prosecutions.  The solution was the amendment to 27.14(b) requiring the court to file a complaint when a defendant fails to appear.  The amendment does nothing more than impose a duty on the court to toll the statute of limitation, by filing the complaint, to avoid prosecutions from continuing to become barred after two years. 

The period of limitation for Class C misdemeanors prior to September 1, 2009, was two years. Only the filing of the complaint tolled the period of limitation.  The citation could serve as the complaint in limited circumstances, for the defendant to plead to, but not for the purpose of tolling the limitation period.  The citation has never tolled the period of limitation.


                                                                                       TABLE OF AUTHORITIES

The Recorder, The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, Volume 16, No. 5, May, 2007, Page 9, Item 23, Does the Filing of a Citation toll The Statute of Limitations?, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center

The Recorder, The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, Volume 18, No. 4, August 2009, Pages 6-7, Subject: Statute of Limitations in Class C Misdemeanors, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center

The Recorder, The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, Volume 18, No. 4, August 2009, Pages 6-7, Subject: Mandatory Filing of Complaints Upon Non-Appearance, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center

Ex Parte Hoard, 140 S.W.  449, (Tex.Crim.App.  1911)

T.C.C.P. 27.14(d), Text of article effective until September 01, 2009

T.C.C.P. 12.02, Text of article effective until September 01, 2009

Resolution of the Texas Judicial Council, Require Complaint to be Filed if Defendant Fails to Appear,

Resolution of the Texas Judicial Council, Set Statute of Limitations in Class C Misdemeanor Cases

S.B. 410, 81st Legislature, Regular Session, Effective September 1, 2009

S.B. 413, 81st Legislature, Regular Session, Effective September 1, 2009

Bill Analysis, S.B. 410, Author’s/Sponsor’s Statement of Intent, 6/4/2009

Bill Analysis, S.B. 413, Author’s/Sponsor’s Statement of Intent, 6/4/2009

T.C.C.P. 27.14(d) Text of article effective September 01, 2009

T.C.C.P. 12.02(b) Text of article effective September 01, 2009




Charles French was licensed to practice law in Texas in 1991. The majority of his practice includes the Justice of the Peace and Municipal Courts in Houston, Harris County and surrounding counties. You may visit his website by going to:

25 comments:

  1. I have a ticket that I got in July 2006 that I forgot about. I recently received a card stating that I had a warrant for my arrest and that I needed to contact the JP's office to make arrangements to pay it. Which I have.

    With the new law in effect, if, in the future, I forget to pay a ticket, and 2 years go by, are the charges dropped and will my name be taken off the Omni System?

    Just how long do the JP's have to wait before turning unpaid tickets into the Omni System in Texas?

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  2. I'm glad you asked this. The new law does not mean that violations over two years old are just dropped. The new law means that if the state fails to file a complaint within two years of the violation, then it is barred from prosecution by the two year statute of limitations. The complaint is not the citation issued by the officer. The complaint is the charging instrument for a Class "C" misdemeanor. It is a formal sworn document filed with the court alleging an offense. The statute of limitations starts running on the date of the violation. Only the filing of the complaint stops or tolls the statute of limitations. So, if a violation occurs and two years elapse without the the complaint being filed, then it is barred from prosecution. If a complaint is filed within two years of the violation date, even if it is filed on the last day of the two year period, then it can still be prosecuted even after two years from the date of the violation.

    Similarly, if you miss court and a violate promise to appear is filed, the statute of limitations on the VPTA begins to runs until a complaint is filed on that charge.

    There are only two ways out of the OMNI System. Either you must pay a $30.00 fee for each case the court entered into the system, or you must be acquitted on the charge entered into the system. Even if a case is dismissed, you still have to pay the fee. I have however been to some courts where they take it out of the system upon dismissal without you paying the fee. I have some FAQ's on my website regarding OMNI, FTA's, warrants. Also, there is information there about when you can pay the fees in order to free up your license.

    I am unaware of any required grace period the court must observe before placing cases in the OMNI System once a non-appearance has been determined. Similarly, I have seen some courts issue a warrant immediately upon a non-appearance, and others where it may take a month or more to go to warrant.

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  3. Can you explain what the "Comment as:"selection under the Post a Comment box means Thanks Jim

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  4. Hey Jim, I'll never be accused of being a computer tech. Honestly, I don't know. I somehow must have hit a button and put this option in here. What it is for, I have no idea. I just went into my settings and hit some more buttons. I guess I'll see what happens.

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  5. Okay...So, my husband received a citation in Wise county back in 2005. Apparently he never took care of it because when he went to get his license he couldn't. I called the number given to us by DPS here in Potter county. I called to take care of the ticket which has gone into warrant and a FTA has been issued. They don't accept payments over the phone or online. It must be mailed or paid in person. (I find this inefficient and irritating.)
    So my question is twofold. One, is the only way to take care of this to mail them the money? and two, we are moving out of state to Tennessee....so, if I don't send them the money will he be able to get a DL in TN?

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  6. Regarding you first question, the court is under no obligation to accept payment over the phone or online. So you either mail it or pay in person. Please be aware that it is my experience that most courts do not accept personal checks. They may require a money order, so find out from them prior to making payment. Finally, if you send it regular mail, call the court a couple of days after you send it to confirm they received it.

    You may want to check the violations page of my website to make sure you are not paying something that may trigger an unintended consequence such as points, surcharges or a license suspension. And this leads to answering your second question.

    Most states are members of what is called the Nonresident Violators Compact. It is basically the member states saying to each other "we will honor your states non-renewal or suspension for delinquencies if you do the same for us". Last time I checked, most states were members of the compact. I would be real surprised if Tennessee were not a member. I believe he will have problems getting a Tennessee license if the issue here in Texas is not resolved.

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  7. hello all, i recieved a yellow postcard sized piece of paper 3 days ago saying i had a warrant for my arrest in tyler texas because i failed to meet my obligation with the court. i called and asked what it was about and they said on jul 15 1995 at 7:20 in the am a man was pulled over in a tan mustang (which i never owned a tan mustang) with license plates that (according to texas dmv) never belonged to me, this man was sited for no insurance, no saftey sticker, and no registration. the kicker here is ive never been in tyler texas ever or even passed through it. yet i have 3 tickets there from 15 years ago that add up to 1000 dollars, now they have a warrant and said my license were suspended. why did it take 15 years to let me in on this? shouldnt i have been notified before now, ive renewed my license before or since then, ive gotten other tickets since then and no warrant came up, is there a statute of limitations? or something what can i do if anything?

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  8. First,the statute of limitations discussed in the above article applies to violations occurring on and after September 1, 2009. Prior to that time it is unclear whether there even was a statute of limitations on class C misdemeanors. So the statute of limitations argument may be of no help in your case since the violation occurred pre September 1, 2009. Second, it is no help that you never owned the car or plates as people do drive cars other than their own. The thing most helpful to your case is the fact that you have never been to Tyler, Texas. Let's start there.

    If you have never been to Tyler, then it sounds like someone was pulled over and gave the officer your information (TDL Number and Name). Sometimes, officers will pull over someone who does not produce a DL. They take the DL Number and Name told to them by the driver and run it through the system. If it checks out, they will sometimes write a citation based on that information. I notice in your case there is no charge for NDL. Either someone actually produced your DL and successfully passed it off as their own, or else the officer for whatever reason, decided not to write them up for NDL. In any event, it looks to them as though you own this.

    Contact the court again and ask them to get you a copy of the ticket via fax or mail. See if the signature on the promise to appear is yours (does it match the signature on your license?). If the signature is not yours see if they will drop it. If they will not drop it, or if it is yours, then contact an attorney, preferably in Tyler, to post bonds, get you out of warrant and represent you. You do not want to just pay it because the insurance violation will become a conviction which could result in a license suspension if you have any other convictions for no insurance. It does not matter how long ago this happened. If you want, go to the www.houstonticketdefender.com link above and call me. I know one attorney to whom I can refer you that may be able to help.

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  9. i did ask for a copy of the ticket, they e-mailed it to me, the only info on it that was correct was my DOB, my DL#, and my name, the adress was to a old city maintenence barn in hooks, the zipcode was somewhere in new jersey, and the signature wasnt mine or didnt look like it, i e-mailed back this info and the said if i write on a piece of paper (under penalty of perjury) i wasnt in tyler that day at that time, have it notarized then sign it 4 times, they would drop it. ok sounds good, but now im thinking if these people will wait 15 years with a ticket worth a 1000 dollars to notify my of its existance, surely they wouldnt mind slapping a (felony) charge of perjury on there also, god knows what that would cost, or do to my record, im seriously scared of tyler texas.

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  10. How can I find out if there is a "complain" officially filed for a ticket?

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  11. I received a no insurance ticket in January 1997 when I was driving a drunk friend home in his vehicle. I forgot about it and in 2000 moved to Indiana. Dec 14, 2010 I received a yellow card from the municipal court in Tyler, Texas stating a warrant has been issued. I called to find out why I had a warrant when I haven't been in Texas for 10 years and they explained what it was, and that they would only lift the warrant on a 400 dollar deposit, which there is no way I can pay. What are my options at this point? I have since started a family, which would suffer as a consequence of my arrest.

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  12. I got a ticket for no insurance back in 2000, have tried over the years to pay, was told several times by local authorities dont worry about it cant find no record of it...well 2009 I go to renew my drivers license, Cant the city has a hold on them but can pay almost $400 they will release the hold. Whats the limitations on this?

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  13. im in the same boat mm2good, and I live in a different state do they revoke the license in Tyler or in all states?

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  14. I received a speeding ticket in 11/2007 for speeding, and then a failure to appear in 12/2007. I moved out of the country in 01/2008, which is why I simply forgot to take care of this. As I plan on moving back to Houston in May, and my DL is expired, how do I go about taking care of this? I've read about the SOL, but how do I figure out the status of my tickets? I still receive letters about a warrant from a Linebarger law office in Houston.

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  15. I have a seatbelt violation from the DPS-TX that was issued in April of 2009. I have retained an attorney from the area of the alleged offense and requested a jury trial as I had my belt on at the time the citation was issued (with a former J.P. in the vehicle as witness). After two plus years we still do not have a court date. From reading previous posts it appears this can drag on indefinately. If a trial is scheduled in the next three to six months can a "Speedy Trial" argument be brought up? Is it more likely to be dropped the longer it goes without trial? Is this the "Failure to file a complaint" issue that would trigger an immediate drop of the charge under current law or has it already been filed due to the fact I requested a jury trial? Thanks in advance for any advice!

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  16. my husband received a letter from san antonio court that stated he had 3-unpaid speeding tickets along w/3-failed to appear court dates. tickets were from 03/1994, 05/1995 and 10/1995. court dates were 2-mos after each citation. we don't keep records dating back 17yrs ago and we don't want to pay again. what are our options? is it even plausible that he could have 2-failure to appears in the same county and THEN get a 3rd ticket with no recourse?

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  17. I apparently got a speeding ticket in September 1996 in La Feria. It's possible because I was a courier around that time and I did get a couple of tickets, though I thought they had been paid. Perhaps I did get a third. I went to prison in October 1996 and got out in 2003. I lived in Florida for 5 years (with a legal valid Florida license) then moved back to Texas in 2008. I have held a valid Texas driver's license since that time and in fact just renewed it in July when I moved to a different address. In August I received a phone call from a collection agency saying that I owed $200-some-odd dollars for this speeding ticket. I don't really trust collection agencies that call and say you owe a debt you are not aware of and are willing to make a "deal". This seems especially suspicious to me since I have obtained and renewed my Texas license with no complications. Could this be a legitimate deal?

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  18. I have a friend who received a traffic ticket for two violations (1. no plate on the vehicle and 2 no proof of insurance) He purchased a new vehicle from a dealership in New Jersey and was on his way back to Mexico where he lives and is a Mexican citizen and was pulled over in Ft Worth Texas. He called me to let me know he received a letter from a law firm stating he had 10 days to clear up the matter. He lives near Mexico City and can't appear in court nor can he send the money requested because no one in Mexico is allowed to buy U.S. currency at a bank because of Mexican Law to combat drug money. The letter took two weeks to get to him. The postal service in Mexico is very poor to say the least. What are his options?

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  19. I got a ticket it in 2006 for speeding and no class a drivers licence while driving a semi tractor trailer. I made arrangements over the phone with the JP for the class a issue to be dropped if I got a class a within a certin amount of time. I never got this done and never contacted them again. About a year and a half later I started getting letters from a attorney trying to collect for all plus a failed to appear fine. I've been getting them for about 3 years now and I would like to know how to proceed.
    I was thinking of just paying it but after reading some of you comments I don't want it to come back on me if I do. What are my options for dealing with this?

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  20. I had a speeding ticket march, 2005. I recall receiving a communication which I remember as saying if I got no other tickets would be dismissed, I don't recall ever hearing again from the city of irving. I just got a letter from a lawyer working for Irving trying to collect $370. This is nearly 7years old and I wasn't aware I owed anything. Isn't there some limitation on this?

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  21. I have a question i got in an acciednt in 2000 and i was very young and my sister got a letter saying that there suspending her drive lience for letting a minor drive i took the vechile without her permission can they go after her after this long thats 12 year ago is there a statute of limitation for this this happened in texas

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  22. I just got a postcard today saying that I had a warrant issued for my arrest. Now, to the best of my knowledge, this case had been resolved, after I sent evidence showing that I was not in Texas at the time on the citation, and pointed out that my Dodge Neon was not capable of safely traveling at the speed indicated on the citation. I learned this on some of the turn pikes where the speed limit is 75, that anything over 70 caused my steering wheel to shake violently. Yet, I received a citation saying I was going 88mph, in Texas, when I was in fact in Illinois at a gas station. I had all my gas receipts from my trip, which I sent to the JP, but they did not seem to think proving I was in another state was sufficient. All the same, they stopped contacting me, now some 8 years later, I'm receiving a letter saying I have a warrant out for my arrest, and they reported me for non-renewal of my license. How can they disregard evidence entirely, and then after 8 years issue a warrant?

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  23. I was stopped for speeding in "valley view" in august 2007, arrested in wisconsin in november for unrelated reasons held in jail in wisconsin till feb and extridited to N.M. and placed directly in prison there till may 17, 2009. I am now again living in wisconsin and just recently receiving a letter about it threatining possible "arrest under warrant" on this letter it has "speeding, 8/18/2007" and "failure to appear, 12/21/2007. Can they seriously come after me almost 7 years later? And I was in jail/prison from november 27, 2007 until may 17, 2009. Appearing wasn't a choice. And I've never heard anything about this till now, they're asking for 473.00 for speeding? thank you for your input

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  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

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