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