Saturday, September 24, 2011

Court approves charging innocent traffic offenders

Innocent drivers can be charged $75 to fight a traffic ticket, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled.

Motorists issued a traffic ticket in Massachusetts will have to pay money to the state whether or not they committed the alleged crime. According to a state supreme court ruling handed down yesterday, fees are to be imposed even on those found completely innocent. The high court saw no injustice in collecting $70 from Ralph C. Sullivan after he successfully fought a $100 ticket for failure to stay within a marked lane.

Bay State drivers given speeding tickets and other moving violations have twenty days either to pay up or make a non-refundable $20 payment to appeal to a clerk-magistrate. After that, further challenge to a district court judge can be had for a non-refundable payment of $50. Sullivan argued that motorists were being forced to pay "fees" not assessed on other types of violations, including drug possession. He argued this was a violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection clause, but the high court justices found this to be reasonable.

"We conclude that there is a rational basis for requiring those cited for a noncriminal motor vehicle infraction alone to pay a filing fee and not requiring a filing fee for those contesting other types of civil violations," Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote for the court. "Where the legislature provides greater process that imposes greater demands on the resources of the District Court, it is rational for the legislature to impose filing fees, waivable where a litigant is indigent, to offset part of the additional cost of these judicial proceedings."

The court insisted that allowing a hearing before a clerk-magistrate instead of an assistant clerk, as well as allowing a de novo hearing before a judge constituted benefits that justified the cost. Last year, the fees for the clerk-magistrate hearings generated $3,678,620 in revenue for the courts. Although Sullivan raised the issue of due process during oral argument, the court would not rule on the merits of that issue.

"I am disappointed that the SJC did not consider my due process argument," Sullivan told TheNewspaper. "I suppose that some other driver who gets charged with a moving violation will need to consider doing that. At least this decision will give them a blueprint for a focused due process argument."

Sullivan, an attorney, is not planning on further appeal to the US Supreme Court.

"While the decision did not go my way, I am safe in the knowledge that I gave it my best shot," Sullivan said. "I took on this case because I felt that it was the right thing to do."

Source: Salem Police Department v. Sullivan (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 9/21/2011)


  1. That can't be true! Fighting traffic tickets means to stop paying their fine, not paying additional fines to contest the ticket. This is not a legal thing to do. It's something of an outrage. If the motorists are innocent, why put a fee on their innocence?

  2. Joseph, this should be good information, but if you insist, I was heading for the courthouse, anyway. I will go look up the case and let you know about it.

    The Legendary