Apparently DUI Isn't the Only Driving Offense Tough on the Expenses!
By: Chris Kramer
Penalties for a major driving offense like DUI are nothing to laugh about. In addition to facing potential DUI penalties like a driver's license suspension, probation or even jail time with the possibility of a prison term, a person who is charged with DUI may spend thousands of dollars defending himself or herself.
While a DUI charge can certainly exhaust one's finances, other traffic violations have apparently been a source of financial stress, at least in Michigan and Texas. But could relief from excessive fines and penalty taxes be on the way for and drivers in these states?
A recent ruling in Virginia, declaring the sky high "civil remedy fees" imposed for even minor traffic offenses illegal, gives hope to those fighting to have similar taxes and fees in other states repealed.
In Michigan, Senator John Gleason has introduced a bill to repeal what is called "driver responsibility fees" in the state. Gleason's bill aims to set a date on which the tax would no longer be collected from drivers. It has been sent to the state Senate Transportation Committee for review.
The bill brings to the forefront the fact that these heavy and unreasonable fees are placing a crushing burden on the judicial system as most people simply can not afford to pay the fines and taxes and are being further penalized.
Last December, a circuit court judge and three sitting district court judges testified about the matter in front of lawmakers. They all agreed that the short-term revenue gain is not worth all the long-term damage that is being done by the driver responsibility fees. The judges cited situations in which low-income drivers were stopped for minor traffic infractions resulting in fines and penalties that they could not afford to pay. Being unable to pay creates a vicious cycle of financial turmoil for the motorists that they are unable to overcome due to a limited income and other financial responsibilities.
In Michigan, the Secretary of State suspends a driver's license if the motorist fails to pay a single tax or fine on time. Even if the person happens to mail the payment to the wrong address by mistake, their license will still be suspended, and often without their knowledge. The driver then, without realizing it, drives on a suspended license. If they are stopped for another violation or go through a road block and it is discovered that their driving privileges are suspended, they then face a mandatory $1,000 ticket tax and a $150 fee to reinstate their license.
So the fees add up quickly and motorists are overwhelmed by them. Many do only what they are able to do, which is use their income to pay their mortgage or rent and feed their families instead of paying the hefty taxes and fines. This creates another problem. In addition to already owing the fees, they are still driving on suspended licenses and risking going to jail and owing even more penalties. For many, the situation can snowball out of control very quickly.
Judge Michael Jarreau testified that he will almost never accept a guilty fee in his court for a person accused of driving under suspension. He stated that "When you turn law-abiding people into criminals, they lose all respect for the law". Very well put, I would say.
The Governor of Michigan is doing everything she can to keep the fees from being repealed. She has a good reason to oppose the repeal - the fees have generated a large amount of revenue. While not everyone can afford to pay, $170 million dollars of the $397 million in fines have been collected since 2004.
Michigan attorney Henry Guikema has challenged the taxes and fees all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court. Justices are currently considering the appeal of the state appeals court ruling on March 22 that found the fees to be legal. Guikema's appeal is on the grounds that the law violate the double jeopardy and equal protection clauses of the state constitution.
In Texas, drivers are facing similar problems paying excessive fees and taxes associated with moving violations, expired insurance and licensing problems. In Texas, taxes from $300 for 6 license demerit points to $7,500 for a second-offense DUI, are added to tickets. The ticket taxes create a lot of revenue for the state, but at the financial peril of many drivers.
Texas State Senator Eliot Shapleigh has asked the Senate Transportation Committee in Texas to hold public hearings on the issue.
Drivers in Michigan and Texas both wait to see if they will be granted any relief from the fees and taxes that are crippling them financially and making criminals out of citizens who simply can not afford to pay the outrageous fees imposed by the states.