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. “angrymanspeaks” wrote:

    “Seems like we are bending over the table for the very same kind of thugs that were the threat back then.” -angrymanspeaks

    Yep.

  2. “Supreme Court, my foot. Greed” -Blouise

    Yes. And a not-so-subtle way of telling us that “Officer Friendly” is usually right.

  3. Adding a court fee to aguilty clients fines is not a new idea. What is new and morally and politically repugnant is the mere thought of charging innocent people for the priviledge of being stopped, grilled, and ticketed by one of that States or any states Power Drunk Fascist Policemen . it’s rather like going to court for imbezelment and after being aquitted being told you have to pay the money back even though you didn’t take it.
    “Why?” you ask.
    “Well your here and this case was a real pain.
    Are we sure we wanted to win WWII? Seems like we are bending over the table for the very same kind of thugs that were the threat back then.

  4. 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

    I give the professor literary license to the use of the word “burn” a la “Burn Notice” (the series on USA network TV).

    In a sense these tickets are a burn notice to those who are innocent, because there should be all kinds of “fringe benefits” for being an innocent citizen.

    Otherwise, lawlessness will climb into the same boat that the law abiding citizen inhabits.

    This is another bad result of trickle down economics … only the bad stuff trickles down as states, counties, and cities feel the wrath of the plunder barons of our plutonomy.

    There is a drought of justice in the winds.

  5. AY, I think I’d have liked your too stupid class a lot more than mine… Gawd they even showed us one of those 60s or70s Drivers Ed movies where people standing around gawking at some unfurtunate who died in some traffic accident. That’ll learn me to slow down those 2 mph.

  6. Its the Good Ole’ Boy System. You don’t have to be a Lawyer, Doctor or Indian Chief. You and your family just have to have lived in the community since the first settlers left the Jamestown Colony and started the expansion south.

  7. Anon
    Its not the lawyers here, or may not be the lawyers, as who knows who profits in Speed Trap City. As much as I flinch when Mike S (who I respect) says things stereo-typically disparaging about the south or rebels (LOL) there is a truth about SOME places down south being a tad behind the times.

  8. anon,

    Hmmmm…lets look at the practical realities…Most clients do not have 50k to fight a 100 dollar ticket…But it is the principal…..so what is the best way….oh yeah…NO POINTS….Not that this stops Insurance Company’s from penalizing you for being stopped…yeah…some still jack your rates….

    Maybe this is why the ACLU is so hated….They take up the costly cases….it is pro bono….

    I do feel your pain though…Ah…ha….because it is a civil case….the county does not have to appoint them an attorney….I bet if the county had to pay in and out…they’d see things differently….

  9. This is the same Supreme Court that found the right to gay marriage in the Constitution and ORDERED the state legislature to enact a statute to allow it. Why bother with a stupid thing like a legislature and executive? Just let the courts run the state.

  10. “Jo,

    Its all about the money…it is a use fee sort of…the officers have to be paid someway….Hmmm…seems like the town fee collector of olde…merry england….”

    AY, I don’t see how you can say it’s about the officer.

    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.

    Presumably all of these lawyers took courses in history, ethics, civil liberties. Which makes their corruption downright treasonous.

    And what I don’t see our any other lawyers, pro-bono, working to overturn such abuses.

  11. Jo,

    I had to do that…when I first moved to Austin…I took a left out of the University…from the main street….up on the wall was a NO LEFT TURN….I did not see it…I turned…I got ticketed….I too took a I’m too stupid to read class….It was a Saturday class…it was noon…it was lunch…we went to the bar….we watched the game….and drank liquid cereal … The breakfast of many students…We were much more fortunate than others….at the time..there were 7 bars on campus…..

  12. AY, LOL I live 7 miles from a small rural town. Got pulled and ticked for going 37 in a 35 zone. Yes I was guilty. To prevent points I was allowed to go to a Saturday’s I’m Too Stupid To Know How to Drive Class. Of the 15 people attending the class in all of two counties all 15 were ticked in the same town. HMMMMMM Speed Trap City, NC.

  13. Jo,

    Its all about the money…it is a use fee sort of…the officers have to be paid someway….Hmmm…seems like the town fee collector of olde…merry england….

  14. It is the revenue enhancement decision….I have had a number of tickets dismissed based upon payments of cost of the paperwork….Now if it had been dismissed based upon the officer not showing…then no cost…I do recall an AG Opinion that said that this was unconstitutional….but it still happened anyways….So the realistic options were points on the DL or the cost of the ticket…what a choice….

    I recall one court charging fees for appeals….from traffic court to the next court…surprise…you got the same judge…hmmmm..seems like a set up to me….This was overturned…but because the “Appeal Fee” had been paid….the Sct held that it was non nonrefundable….and because the Respondant had a technical win…the Government could not be forced to pay the costs if they lost a the enjoyed immunity…hmmmm…

    Sounds like a revenue enhancement measure to me, just the same…

  15. Lloyd(1980): Lawyers. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
    Jack Torrance(1980): Words of wisdom, Lloyd, my man. Words of wisdom.

    Jack Torrance(1997): Lawyers, can’t live with them, can’t kill them.
    Delbert Grady(1997): Can’t you sir?

    Jack Torrance(2011): Just kill the damn lawyers already. Sooner the better, before they grow into goddamn judges and politicians.

  16. Professor Turley,

    No witches were burned in Salem, Massachusetts, back in the 17th century. They were executed by hanging–and one elderly man named Giles Corey was crushed to death under a weight of stones.

    You ought to visit Salem in late October with your family some year. The city takes advantage of its “witchy” notoriety. You might even be able to book yourself a hearse tour of the city. Just be careful how you drive!

  17. Welcome to the New America . . . where you get all the justice you can afford to purchase.

    You’ll notice I didn’t say “New and Improved”.

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