Massachusetts Court Forces Innocent Motorists to Pay Court Costs

I was doing my normal internet sweep this morning when I came across this troubling story.  The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled that a motorist who successfully defended himself in court on a traffic ticket is still responsible for fees he or she paid to contest that ticket.  In this case, the innocent motorist was charged $70 in fees to contest a ticket he, by decision of the court, should have never received.  Essentially, the driver could have paid $30 more (the citation was otherwise $100) and not had to go through the challenge process.

Obviously, parties should be responsible for court costs where a wrong was committed; however, I struggle to see the logic in imposing costs where a person should not have (technically) been in court in the first place!   The actual court decision notes that the Massachusetts courts handle hundreds of thousands of traffic citations each year and that the filing fees serve a legitimate purpose of dissuading frivolous challenges to those citations.  I wholeheartedly agree with that purpose; however, it seems to me that the motorist in this case should have had the costs refunded after he WON and the citation was thrown out.  This policy seems to create a pretty powerful disincentive to fighting traffic (or any other) tickets.

Now, I don’t practice in traffic law, but I do have friends who know a whole lot more about this area than I do.  They have advised me that Wisconsin courts do not force the same court costs on successful ticket challengers as those who are less successful (less successful meaning every outcome from the citation upheld entirely to being reduced to a lesser offense).  Indeed, Wis. Stat. § 345.47 (“Judgment of forfeitures, costs, fees and surcharges”) states, in part,

If the defendant is found guilty, the court may enter judgment against the defendant for a monetary amount not to exceed the maximum forfeiture provided for the violation, plus costs, fees, and surcharges imposed under ch. 814, and, in addition, may suspend or revoke his or her operating privilege under s. 343.30.

This means that a party who is found not guilty will not be responsible for the same costs at issue in the Massachusetts case.  Obviously, if the party is found guilty, or if the judge simply reduces the ticket to a lesser offense, they will likely be responsible for court costs, fees and surcharges (in addition to any monetary and/or other penalty the offense provides).

Just some food for thought as you make your morning commute.

P.S. Thanks to Claudia Lombardo of Holevoet Law Office, LLC for her traffic law expertise!.