Mass. high court upholds fees for traffic ticket appeals
09/21/2011 11:38 AM
By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
Thinking about appealing that traffic ticket? You’re going to have to pay for it.
The state’s highest court has upheld the state law that requires people to pay a filing fee when they contest a traffic ticket.
The Supreme Judicial Court said in a ruling today that “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.”
Anybody who wants to appeal a traffic ticket must pay a $25 fee to appeal to a clerk-magistrate hearing. If they want to appeal the decision of the clerk-magistrate to a judge, they must pay another $50. The fees have been in effect since July 1, 2009. Before that time, the only fee required was a $20 fee when a driver took an appeal all the way to a judge.
The court rejected arguments by Ralph C. Sullivan, who challenged tickets he received on April 30, 2009 in Salem. Sullivan argued that the fees violated his constitutional right to equal protection under the law because people who contested traffic violations were treated differently from those contesting other civil infractions, such as tickets for smoking in public accommodations and for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana.
But the court said those challenging traffic tickets have “significantly greater” procedural protections than those challenging the other violations, including the right to subpoena witnesses, the right to be heard by a clerk-magistrate or judge rather than an assistant clerk, and the right to a fresh hearing before a judge.
The court said such protections impose “greater demands on the resources of the District Court.”
The court, in an opinion by Justice Ralph Gants, noted that about 700,000 motorists per year are cited for moving violations.
The opinion added that “where approximately 200,000 seek clerk-magistrate hearings, 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.”