By on September 22, 2011

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)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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44 Comments on “Massachusetts: Supreme Court Approves Charging Innocent Ticket Recipients...”


  • avatar
    stryker1

    Booooo!

  • avatar
    Almost Jake

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ll add this to the list of reason to avoid Massachusetts.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Having a hard time getting outraged over this one. Who really cares about the actual fine part of a traffic violation? That’s not what hurts you, it’s the insurance bump and stiffer penalties for any subsequent violations. I would consider it a success to pay 70 bucks and end up with a clean sheet.

    • 0 avatar
      sitting@home

      The guy is being charged for his day in court. If you were accused of a crime and told you’d have to pay for the trial or be assumed guilty then you’d probably be a little more outraged.

      Also it appears that the high court is saying the judiciary can impose whatever fees they want to for providing a public service. Isn’t this rather a conflict of interest.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        The guy is being charged for his day in court.

        Looking at my paycheck, there is this line that says MASS TAX W/H. Silly me, I thought that was supposed to cover my use of the courts should the need arise.

    • 0 avatar

      if the cost of giving the alleged speeder due process is so hefty for the state, perhaps the state should lean on the cops to refrain from ticketing except when a driver is truly endangering people. Due process is a right under the constitution. As a Massachusetts resident, I’m really disgusted.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        if the cost of giving the alleged speeder due process is so hefty for the state, perhaps the state should lean on the cops to refrain from ticketing except when a driver is truly endangering people.

        Unfortunately, the states have figured out that turning moving violations into civil cases gives them all of the latitude that they want, without most of the costs.

        Most of the time, they just want your money. By taking the civil approach, they can avoid holding real trials while getting most of the money, and at lower cost. Since these convictions would not have resulted in jail time, anyway, the civil sanctions are more than adequate for their purposes.

        Yet they can also maintain a separate set of criminal penalties for the serious stuff, which allows them to have additional options whenever they want to use them. If the civil case doesn’t suit them, they can unilaterally ratchet up the stakes and make it a criminal matter. They win, either way.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    So in the future a police officer or any state oficials can stop us and ask us to hand over money at will? Wasn’t the country founded as a protest for taxation without representation? Massachussets (Boston) is where it started too!

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    First, you’re assuming you’re going to win in court. Since traffic court “justice” is the most slanted system this side of North Korea you may be just paying an extra $70 so you can simulate a day in an impartial court.

    Second, which other rights would you like to be charged a fee for? You want to vote, that ought to be good for a $100 fee to cover the “costs” of setting up the voting machines, etc. Then there’s the fee for using the internet or reading a newspaper, and the fee for sending a petition to the government. Don’t even get me started on the “reasonable” fees they can assess to “administer” the second amendment.

    Why not just send each resident of the state an exorbitant traffic ticket by mail, and close each one out after they’ve paid their fees to contest them? Hey, an easy $70 a head without having to provide a service. What budget deficit?

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    dear god.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    If this was 1773, Sam Adams would whip up a group into a frenzy and there would be a mass speeding protest through the streets of Boston.

    Sadly this is 2011 and we’re a nation of wimps who are happily applauding as our rights are chipped away, one tiny piece at a time.

    John Hancock and John Adams are both spinning in their graves over this decision in Massachusetts.

    This is total fodder for appeal into the federal system, it seems to violate the Bill of Rights (but I’m no Constitutional lawyer)

    • 0 avatar
      Southerner

      I’m in total agreement with you, APa.
      That such a self-evident outrage can come to pass without uproar is just one of a thousand reasons I despair for the USA.
      Wimps indeed.

  • avatar

    I have not read the decision, but the key word here is “civil”. I’m a traffic attorney in NY so here goes….

    This is horrible precedent in any court…….

    In most states, a traffic ticket is criminal or quasi-criminal in terms of discovery and procedures. Exceptions exist like NY, where a ticket is heard in a local criminal court, but in NYC only, DMV “adjuticates” the tickets in a civil forum, and you don’t go near “criminal” anything. Most folks who “go to Court” will end up in a room with criminal cases being heard as well. It’s the little brother to criminal court.

    Oft when the State wants to “mess u”, they tack “civil” penalties to things automotive. Surcharges, Points Taxes (driver responsibility assessments), No Insurance penalties. Driving is a privilege, not a right (don’t email me I disagree too), so the State has a much lower burden to change things and does not usually have to give as much “due process”. Anyone who has been to New York City Traffic Violations Bureau, where the Administrative Hearing Officers (Not to be confused with “Judge” under the Constitution) hear cases knows that.

    MA, from what I know, has an odd “magistrate” system where you are made a token offer or convicted, and you must appeal to a “real Court” after the magistrate game. This has not comparison in any other state I’ve ever seen. Here you are paying a filing fee to get into the RealCourt TM….

    Fees are normal in Civil Court. In NY, we have gone from about $75 to file a case when I started to about $500 in various filing, motion, and Judicial Intervention fees. (The ticket surcharge in NY has gone from 17.50 to 85 dollars per ticket in my time.) No one notices because those paying are either moneyed litigants or the attorney advancing the fees, so no one cares. The few folks who do it themselves file for and get indigent status so are exempted.

    The big problem is that this “bright idea” will be discussed in other places. Some will reject out of hand….but others may not.

    MA Supreme Court, you done us wrong. That’s my legal opinion :)

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    If the so-called ‘fees’ do in fact cover the cost of the court challenge, then one could claim that falsely ticketing the public should end up being revenue neutral (more-or-less). But this would be based on the highly questionable assumption that everyone falsely ticketed would actually challenge the claim. As the low rate of return of such things as ‘rebates’ and ‘gift cards’ indicates, however (which have turned into a major new source of profits for many corporations because many are never actually ‘cashed-in’), then it is unlikely that all those falsely ticketed would actually challenge this kind of thing.

    It certainly makes for some interesting (though perhaps factually and legally flawed) speculation, that’s for sure.

    Perhaps the worst thing about this kind of ruling is that it could serve to further erode people’s trust or confidence in the justness of their society. If people begin to feel that they are no longer being given a fair shake within their society, their sense of obligation towards that society and its rules may begin to break down. This would not be a good thing.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      “If people begin to feel that they are no longer being given a fair shake within their society, their sense of obligation towards that society and its rules may begin to break down.”

      We’re already there when it comes to local traffic law. When I see police on the major streets in my city I assume they are trolling for revenue, not protecting the public. As a kid the 55mph speed limit taught me that stupid laws could be broken as long as enough people did it. It’s much easier and faster to crater a law with non-compliance than to ever get the political process to fix their mistake.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    What about that pesky Bill of Rights thingy, specifically #7 that says: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved”? These motorists aren’t even asking for something as elaborate as a jury trial, just an official venue to state their case.
    Since the government is initiating the action against the driver, let them pay the fee.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      What about that pesky Bill of Rights thingy

      The Seventh Amendment applies to federal civil cases, not to most state matters: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment07/01.html#f21

      Fans of “states rights” should be thrilled by the Massachusetts decision. But I’m not, so I’m not.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      EXACTLY. And my understanding is the 7th Amendment would trump Massachusetts decision. I see an appeal into the federal court system on this decision coming.

      Of course SCOTUS sent a man, who at the minimum was reasonably doubtful in his guilt, to his death last night – so the current sitting judges are apparently not all that interested in a “strict” interpretation of the Bill of Rights.

      The more the years tick by, the more Libertarian/Federalist I become in my views.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        And my understanding is the 7th Amendment would trump Massachusetts decision.

        Your understanding is incorrect. For the most part, the Seventh Amendment does not apply to state civil cases, only federal ones.

        Objection is also taken to the validity of the State law upon the ground that it is in conflict with the provision of the Federal Constitution which secures to every party, where the value in controversy exceeds twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury.

        Two answers may be made to that objection, either of which is decisive: (1.) That it does not apply to trials in the State courts…

        -Edwards v. Elliott (1874)

        http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=88&invol=532#557

        Obama must have picked the judges who ruled on that case, I’m just sure of it.

      • 0 avatar
        bill h.

        “…the chief business of the Supreme Court is to keep the Constitution loose and elastic, so that blasting holes through it may not be too onerous.” H. L. Mencken

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        “Your understanding is incorrect. For the most part, the Seventh Amendment does not apply to state civil cases, only federal ones.”

        From a pure “make the constitution logical and mean something” perspective, such an item should either supersede all state laws, or be removed. The constitution should be a set of values share by all states.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        From a pure “make the constitution logical and mean something” perspective, such an item should either supersede all state laws, or be removed.

        The 21st Amendment appealed Prohibition. But that doesn’t mean that a city or county can’t choose to be “dry,” or that Kansas is obliged to have its liquor laws come out of DC. This is a federal system, and states have a lot of authority to manage their own affairs.

        The federal courts decided long ago that the Seventh Amendment has limited application at the state level. Again, the “states rights” advocates should be thrilled to pieces that states are allowed to have autonomy in running their own courts.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        (In those days they took the 10th amendment seriously; nowadays they’d just lump it under interstate commerce and legislate.)…

        enough of the picking & choosing as to which rights the states should follow.

        You’ve contradicted yourself within just a few sentences.

        The current interpretation of the Seventh Amendment is in line with the Tenth Amendment — the Seventh Amendment is a federal matter, and the states can largely do what they want. You should be delighted.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        Pch101, it’s fine that for certain items, each state can have a different view. Just remove those from the constitution, because they are not common values shared by all Americans.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        it’s fine that for certain items, each state can have a different view. Just remove those from the constitution, because they are not common values shared by all Americans.

        When the Supreme Court is interested in the opinions of a random Canadian guy on the internet, I’m sure that they’ll call you.

        But for now, I would expect them to follow precedent. And that means that the Seventh Amendment largely doesn’t apply to state courts.

        If the people of Massachusetts don’t like this, they’re going to have to remedy it at the state level. The federal government has no dog in this fight.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure there’s legal precedent for applying inflation to that figure. $20 in 1789 was a lot of money. Somewhere between $200 and $2000 in 2011 dollars, depending on what sort of index you’re looking at. Kind of shortsighted to specify a hard number like that in a document presumably intended to stand for maybe hundreds of years. If you look at small claims courts which don’t provide for a jury and don’t start at $20, I imagine the existence of that venue comes out of a reasonable interpretation of the 7th.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        There was never an enshrined right to sell alcohol; it was regarded as a state matter to regulate, hence the necessity of a constitutional amendment to empower the federal gov’t to get involved. (In those days they took the 10th amendment seriously; nowadays they’d just lump it under interstate commerce and legislate.)

        Even if we agree to revise the $20 figure for inflation, what the state court did is do away with the right to any kind of trial, with or without a jury.

        Agree completely with WSN: enough of the picking & choosing as to which rights the states should follow.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        (In those days they took the 10th amendment seriously; nowadays they’d just lump it under interstate commerce and legislate.)…

        enough of the picking & choosing as to which rights the states should follow.

        You’ve contradicted yourself within just a few sentences.

        The current interpretation of the Seventh Amendment is in line with the Tenth Amendment — the Seventh Amendment is a federal matter, and the states can largely do what they want. You should be delighted.

      • 0 avatar
        korvetkeith

        Well we did have a gold standard back then. Assuming we still did, $20 woul be worth the same amount of gold.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Pretty awful, and completely expected from the MA SJC.

    Best system I ever saw was in Kansas. By law, and ticket for speeding that was for less than 10 MPH over the limit, was not reportable to insurance. So the police would walk up, and hand you a ticket for 9MPH over. Then they would show you the radar slip showing 11-12 whatever over. They’d advise you that if you interrupted their day by fighting the ticket, they’d increase the charged speed at your hearing. Nobody fought a ticket without a very solid case.

    I’m an attorney in Massachusetts, and FYI, it’s not the Supreme Court. It’s the Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Court is a lower court here. Weird, I know.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      When I first learned to drive a speeding ticket in Massachusetts was $50. Didn’t matter if you were 5 over the limit or 30 over the limit, as long as you were under 85 MPH (back in the drive 55 days) it was $50.

      I drove 80 everywhere.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Ah, Taxechusetts is at it again. Once filing fees are enshrined as a revenue stream, look for the fees to be greatly increased. 70 bucks will be a bargain.

    How about a nice class action suit against them, surely some can see the value in a suit representing 50,000 people suing for recovery of all manners of fees. The defense of such a suit alone would eat up the fees and probably force a reconsideration.

    Of course the best response is to call a moving company and take your money/job/life to another state that appreciates you more. They hate the fact people can move.

  • avatar
    priapism

    When you turn law enforcement into a for-profit activity, all pretenses of justice go out the window.

  • avatar

    Optimist’s view of this article — For once a thread where folks can’t appear and say “If you don’t do anything wrong you don’t have to worry about paying any fees.”

  • avatar
    bill h.

    FWIW, I found a similar situation when I wanted to contest a photo radar ticket my wife received in Washington DC. The real stinker was that to the best of our knowledge, we never received the original citation. Then months later we received a notice that the fine had doubled because we never acknowledged receipt of said original citation etc. To contest that in court would have cost similar fees to what MA is charging.

  • avatar
    50merc

    No one should expect justice, or even common sense, from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a stalwart ally of the witch hunters all through the sordid prosecution of the Amirault family on preposterous child abuse charges.

  • avatar
    vento97

    I guess that’s why they call the state “Taxachusetts”…

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Whatta bunch a masswipes! I doubt this will stand for long. The people of Massachusetts can’t stand for this. Hopefully this goes down like the new ABCC rule did.

    http://articles.boston.com/2011-08-09/business/29868910_1_local-brewers-beer-new-rule

    Apples and oranges, I know, but if the people get outraged things will happen and, hopefully, heads will roll (not in a French Revolution way, of course, metaphorically.)

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      There is some good news on the ticket front in Massachusetts. The number of speeding tickets has dropped by 35% from 2008 levels. Apparently they’ve been focusing more on crime and less on traffic enforcement.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        I didn’ run the math, but if the cost of the infraction goes up, and the system is rigged to make the money-grab efficient, it seems reasonable that the number of tickets could drop even as the revenue generated by the remaining tickets increases…

  • avatar
    Sandy2

    In “Taxachusetts” there is a charge for EVERYTHING, … especially access to justice. Heck, you have to make excessive payments even to be the judge!

    As outrageous as it sounds, the local newspapers documented that that in order to become an SJC judge, one of them had her husband make an excessively illegal payment (See “What price robe and gavel?” Boston Herald, August 26, 2007).

    By the way, Massachusetts is also dubbed “Corruptachusetts”.

  • avatar
    klossfam

    I call BS on MA.


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