Massachusetts Supreme Court Upholds Right To Charge Citizens For Challenging Tickets — Win or Lose

There has long been an reasonable expectation among citizens that, if they are falsely accused of an offense, they will not have to pay either the fine or the cost of a hearing. Indeed, even if found guilty, there is generally not a charge for seeking justice in a court. Not in Salem, Massachusetts. The state supreme court ruled last week that motorists must pay the state even if they win their cases in court. The cost of fighting a ticket is $75, which can be roughly the cost of the ticket itself. It is a system that makes a mockery of the right to challenge a charge. No wonder so many witches were burned in the town . . . most could not afford the cost of an appeal.

Drivers can be charged a non-refundable $20 payment to appeal to a clerk-magistrate. A challenge to the district court will now also include a non-refundable payment of $50. While other citizens are not charged such fees for violations like drug possession, the state is hitting drivers with the fee — a clear effort to discourage challenges to driving charges, including speeding tickets. Nevertheless, the court found that the fees were reasonable under a rational basis test. The court in Police Department of Salem v. Sullivan, 2011 Mass. LEXIS 835 (March 10, 2011) ruled:

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 under G. L. c. 40, § 21D. The process provided under G. L. c. 90C, § 3, to those who challenge a motor vehicle violation is significantly greater than that afforded to those who challenge a civil infraction under G. L. c. 40, § 21D. General Laws c. 90C, § 3, provides for the subpoena of witnesses for the hearing; G. L. c. 40, § 21D, does not. Those contesting motor vehicle violations under G. L. c. 90C, § 3, are entitled to a hearing before a judge or clerk-magistrate; those contesting a civil infraction under G. L. c. 40, § 21D, may be heard by an assistant clerk. Those found responsible by a clerk-magistrate for a motor vehicle violation under G. L. c. 90C, § 3, are allowed to obtain a de novo hearing before a judge; those contesting a civil infraction under G. L. c. 40, § 21D, have no entitlement to a de novo hearing on appeal. 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 number of hearings on civil motor vehicle citations each year also dwarfs the number of hearings on public smoking and marijuana violations.8 Where approximately 700,000 motorists cited for moving violations potentially may seek recourse in the District Court each year,9 and where approximately 200,000 seek clerk-magistrate hearings, see note 8, supra, it is rational for the Legislature to deter frivolous filings by requiring a twenty-five dollar filing fee, and to deter frivolous appeals from a clerk-magistrate’s finding of responsibility by requiring payment of an additional fifty dollar fee to schedule a hearing before a judge.

I can certainly understand the cost associated with such challenges, but the practice still placed a barrier on seeking a fair hearing and appeal of a charge by the government. Most assume that this is one of those basic functions of government — not some type of fringe benefit of being a citizen. No wonder so many witches were burned in the town . . . most could not afford the cost of an appeal. John Adams would be spinning in his grave . . . if he didn’t face a significant fine and court charge.

Source: The Newspaper

35 thoughts on “Massachusetts Supreme Court Upholds Right To Charge Citizens For Challenging Tickets — Win or Lose”

  1. As long as we allow courts and legislatures to be above the law, this will continue to happen.

  2. so essentially..if a cop is in a bad mood, he can just cite you for any made up violation.. even something that is obvious you didn’t do.. either way he knows your gonna be paying he gets last laugh. there is something seriously wrong with this state..the Massachusetts supreme court are useless. I hope this is appealed to the federal supreme court (who will just decide not to hear it). sad..

    1. Yeh,
      Is it right that they get to chose which cases they will hear? I know there are alot of cases but, well, I just think we could do a better job of it. You know “Step right up. State your case. Ok give us a minute. What do you guys think? 6 to 3 Yeh, they are just trying to steal your rights. You get to keep your business and the city has to pay you for your inconvenience. Gavel down. Done. next Case!” And welcome to armchair SCOTUS. The show where home viewers get to set Constitutional precident.
      I really do believe that the Court could do with alot less red tape and back and forth motions and responses etc. I understand the reason for them but I think there must be a better way.

  3. Anon, I have to drive through Speed Trap City to get to my mothers. Was driving through there Tuesday Evening (My mother has taken very ill) This was the day of this comment: Anon: “So the folks who can use the Opera House, the downtown Trolley, the late night park concerts, the expanded police roles to patrol downtown, “ETC And my Answer. LOL, Anon I don’t live in NYCity.” ETC
    What is so funny is that there was an advertisement poster on the outside wall of the small country store that read “HMS PINNAFORE” “JUST LIKE A REAL OPERA” To be seen in a community theatre in another small town in another county nearby. (Its still a small town but 5 times larger than Speed Trap City) Made me crow with laughter . I hope it makes you laugh also.

  4. FEES – try Chicagoland: Aurora Illinois now charges EVERYONE arrested $50. Charges dismissed in the morning or capital crime – doesn’t matter.
    Of course the radio news only reported the expected revenue of $500,000 and not the outrageous unconstitutionality.

    FEES- Chicagoland: many suburbs have huge vehicle impound fees if the driver is arrested or any number of local vehicle codes are violated.
    For example a pine tree air freshener on the mirror cost a man $600 plus $50 tow to retrieve his large car. Unsafe due to obstructed vision which used to be a $20 ticket.
    Key point: this is a city FEE, not a court imposed penalty. No disputes. No lawyers, no recourse except to forfeit the car.

  5. Now would Governor Mitt have any prior knowledge of this? Did these fees come into fruition on his watch? Sounds eerily like this could have well been a bi-product of his gubernatorial agenda some years ago!

  6. “It’s a fee proposed by lawyers, approved of by lawyers, judged by lawyers that largely benefits the lawyers by paying for lawyer accoutrements: courthouses, fancy town buildings, etc.”

    Actually, when a young lawyer shows up in court, he is given the accumulated fee with the admonition “Go buy a vest and become an attorney.”

  7. Here is what will happen in Massachusetts, driven by this new revenue opportunity for the State:

    1. Motor vehicle fines will rise because the alternative appeal is also expensive
    2. The rate of dismissal by clerks will fall rapidly, again forcing cases into court
    3. The rate of false and erroneous tickets will rise, since government wins either way

  8. LOL, Anon I don’t live in NYCity. Speed Trap City has one traffic light. The country road goes from 55 mph to 35 mph with the cop car hidden just past the 35mph sign. New downtown improvement district would provide spittoons for the old codgers who sit outside the ole’ country store swappin’ fishin’ stories smokin’ and spittin’ baccy. The expanded police roles to patrol downtown would mean the one parttime cop would work an extra shift, maybe Wednesday evenins’. You know what hellions those people leavin Prayer meetin’ are.
    Puccini, Verdi, Pavorotti, La Boheme, ………ahhhhhhhhh ….. Opera house indeed.

  9. Jo, and AY,

    It’s pretty clear who benefits in Speed Trap City, that extorts money from all classes and redistributes it to the city. That’s the folks at the top of the city who can best utilize the resources of the city and the various managers of the city who can take those resources and use it to build bigger departments that require more resources.

    So the folks who can use the Opera House, the downtown Trolley, the late night park concerts, the expanded police roles to patrol downtown, the pothole improvements in downtown, the new courtrooms, the new computer systems, the ferry boat, the new downtown improvement district, those are the folks that benefit most along with the city managers who are building bigger and bigger departments.

    And that’s why I say it’s largely a play by lawyers for lawyers.

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