This isn’t exactly breaking news, but it’s something worth reminding my readers of. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently handed down a ruling on a challenge to the state imposing a fee to get a hearing on a motor vehicle offense or traffic violation.
Drivers seeking to appeal a citation in front of a Clerk-Magistrate have been charged a $25.00 fee since July 1, 2009. If the hearing results in an adverse finding and the driver wishes to appeal the Clerk’s finding to a District Court judge, there is an additional $50.00 fine. Prior to July 1 2009, drivers could secure a hearing before a Clerk-Magistrate for free, and appeals to a judge after a Clerk’s hearing cost only a $20 fee. The state imposed the new fees as part of a sweeping set of new “revenue-enhancement” measures in 2009. (Translation: New taxes.) A lawyer challenged the new hearing fees, arguing that the fees violated his constitutional right to equal protection. He argued an equal protection violation due to the fact that people who contest traffic violations are treated differently from people contesting other civil infractions, such as tickets for smoking in public places and for possession of an ounce of marijuana or less.
Unfortunately, the SJC ruled that drivers who challenge traffic tickets enjoy “significantly greater” procedural safeguards than people who challenge other civil violations, and hence the court found no equal protection violation. These greater procedural protections include the right to subpoena witnesses, the right to be heard by a Clerk-magistrate, and the right to a new hearing before a judge, if the violator is found against by a clerk-magistrate. Justifying the fee, the SJC wrote that these safeguards impose “greater demands on the resources of the District Court,” that approximately 700,000 drivers are cited each year for civil vehicular traffic violations, that approximately 200,000 of those drivers seek hearings, and that those increased administrative demands justify the fees.
As a Boston Massachusetts traaffic violations lawyer, I feel that these fees should have been enacted at lower levels than they presently are – perhaps $15.00 for a Clerk-Magistrate’s hearing, and $25.00 for an appeal to a judge. But the SJC wasn’t asked to rule on the fee amounts – only whether the Legislature’s imposition of them was constitutional. In my view, these fees increase the stakes at these hearings and appeals, and increase the need for an experienced Massachusetts traffic ticket lawyer to be present at the hearing.
The watchword: Watch your speed and the rules of the road. Because the costs aren’t getting any lower.