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Armed With Checkbooks and Excuses, First Casualties of Va. Fees Go to Court

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  • Armed With Checkbooks and Excuses, First Casualties of Va. Fees Go to Court

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...101352_pf.html

    The labor pains were coming, so Jessica Hodges got going. The 26-year-old bank teller from Burke sped toward Inova Fairfax Hospital, but before she got there, the law got her -- 57 mph in a 35 zone. Reckless driving.

    Hodges's labor pains subsided -- they turned out to be a false alarm -- but the agony from her ticket is mounting. She was found guilty of the July 3 offense and given a $1,050 civil fee on top of a judge-imposed $100 fine and court costs, making her one of the first to be hit with Virginia's new "abusive driver fees," which have been greeted by widespread public outrage.

    "It's crazy," said an unregretful Hodges. "Having a baby's more important. Of course I'm going to speed."

    Anger and exasperation have been common sentiments recently in Fairfax General District Court, where fee-facing drivers such as Hodges have started to join the daily swarm of traffic offenders. After waiting hours to give their side of the story to judges -- several of whom seemed just as annoyed with the fees as defendants -- many nevertheless left owing enormous sums that they said would be difficult to pay.

    Those lucky enough to live out of state or to have been pulled over before the fees went into effect July 1 -- the "magic date," as one judge called it -- escaped the penalties, as did many who hired attorneys who were able to argue for lesser charges or continuances.

    The fees, which range from $750 to $3,000, were passed by the General Assembly in the spring as part of a package aimed at funding scores of transportation projects.
    Backers said the fees would both raise money and improve highway safety by targeting the state's worst drivers -- those guilty of severe traffic offenses such as DUI, reckless driving and driving on a suspended license.

    But the fees have since been vilified by an angry public (more than 170,000 people have signed an online petition to repeal them), denounced by lawmakers who once supported them and ruled unconstitutional by judges in two localities who said they violate equal protection rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. A Centreville man convicted of reckless driving filed a challenge to the fees in Arlington County General District Court on the same grounds.

    Nonetheless, the penalties remain in effect, and offenders have started to feel their pinch. Melissa Norquest, 33, of Manassas shelled out $522 Tuesday after being found guilty of reckless driving for going 56 mph in a 35 mph zone July 3. She will pay the rest in installments.

    Norquest took issue with a provision that exempts out-of-state drivers from paying the fees. If you don't live in Virginia, she said, "you just pay your l'il $100 fine and go on your way. . . . If they're going to make it for Virginia residents, they should also make it for whoever drives through Virginia or get rid of it completely. I mean, you want the whole state to be safe, right?"

    Norquest, who works for Fairfax County Family Services, also said she did not see the point of hiring a lawyer at a cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars. "You're either paying for one or you're paying for the other," she said.

    Defendants weren't the only ones grousing about the penalties.

    "Quite frankly, these are going to be a major burden on the clerk's office," Judge Michael J. Cassidy said Monday while explaining the fees during his opening remarks to the crowded courtroom. "I realize that these might be a financial burden. . . . It was not the clerk's choice to impose these fees."

    Bob Battle, a Richmond attorney who was in Fairfax traffic court Tuesday, said disapproval among judges is widespread.

    "Judges, like other people, don't like them," he said. "Two have made it loud and clear, but so many of them out there are convinced that [the fees are] unconstitutional."

    Battle said he thinks the fees are excessive. It's "sort of a kick-them-while-they're-down mentality," he said. "I think people who were charged with reckless driving, speeding or DUI were crazy not to have a lawyer before.. . . With a DUI defendant, you mean the potential year in jail, a $2,500 fine, at best a restricted license, the classes they have to go to, insurance wasn't a sufficient punishment?"

    Because post-July 1 defendants make up only a small fraction of the caseload, it's too soon to determine what effect, if any, they will have on the judicial system, said Nancy Lake, Fairfax General District Court clerk. "I think it might have an effect in September, when most of the docket are these types of cases," she said.

    Kathryn Bogush, 37, of Centreville caught a break in her case from a judge who amended her charge because she has a good driving record.

    "Your [offense is] after that magic date of July 1," Judge Lisa A. Mayne said to Bogush, who was facing a reckless driving charge for going 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. "On the other hand, you have a plus-five driving record. I will take that into account."

    Minutes later, a smiling Bogush was headed to the cashier after her charge was lowered to simple speeding, thereby avoiding the civil fee. "I was thankful she changed it," Bogush said.

    Not everyone was so lucky. Upon hearing that he would have to pay the first $350 of his civil fee after being convicted of reckless driving, Samuel Ortez, 34, of Woodbridge, a truck driver and father of two from El Salvador, stared blankly for a moment outside the cashier's office, his eyes watering slightly.

    "It's going to affect the bills," he said quietly in Spanish, his nephew Leo Ortez interpreting.

    People who are unable to pay the first installment the day of their conviction are charged an additional $10 and are given 90 days to six months to pay, depending on the amount of the fee, Lake said.

    Some, like Hodges, thought they had a legitimate excuse for speeding and would be able to get the charge lowered.

    But when it came time to testify, Hodges said she felt rushed and couldn't adequately explain her situation to the judge, who found her guilty.

    She said that she plans to appeal the decision.

    She and her husband, Jeff, a massage therapist, barely go out and are living basically week-to-week to support 17-month-old Madison and infant Alessandra, born July 19, she said.

    If the appeal is denied, her husband will probably have to work overtime, she said, but she's hoping a second judge will dismiss her case because of the circumstances.

    "I'm getting out of here," Hodges said, "before I have to pay for any new roads."

  • #2
    A. They ALL violated the law....but the media forgets about that and tries to make them all look like victims.....

    B. If the prego chick was that concerned about having her kid....TRY CALLING 9-1-1!! F/C has a very nice EMS system in place.......and they would have sent a very nice ambulance out to fetch her......though...she thought she had a legitimate reason to travel 57 in a 35......22 over.....and is whinning now....

    C. Slow the hell down!! One chick was going 80 in a 55...... I would have carted her *** to jail and made her post bond had that happened in Missouri and I was the arresting Officer.....

    Amazing..... God Bless the Liberal Washington Pravda.......

    Comment


    • #3
      Actually some people are already challenging these fees. One county judge has actually thrown out the cases that involve these fees. Here is something I do not understand and perhaps somebody from VA could enlighten me....These fees are tacked on to multiple offenses, correct? The lady that got the $1,050....aren't these fees for repeat offenders? One case I was recently reading about that went to court was a guy who had been caught driving on a suspended license for the 5th time and they nailed him. Had it been his first offense, I do not think these fees apply. Its the people that are repeatedly breaking the law. I wonder what the pregnant lady's driving record looked like.

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      • #4
        From what I saw the last time i was home in VA on vacation, driving 10-15mph over the limit is the norm in some places. I darn near got wrecked 6 times on my way to VaBeach because I was doing the limit.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Taylor1430 View Post
          Actually some people are already challenging these fees. One county judge has actually thrown out the cases that involve these fees. Here is something I do not understand and perhaps somebody from VA could enlighten me....These fees are tacked on to multiple offenses, correct? The lady that got the $1,050....aren't these fees for repeat offenders? One case I was recently reading about that went to court was a guy who had been caught driving on a suspended license for the 5th time and they nailed him. Had it been his first offense, I do not think these fees apply. Its the people that are repeatedly breaking the law. I wonder what the pregnant lady's driving record looked like.
          I was told that the preggo lady was actualy -10 and has a ton of prior moving violations on her record.... so yes the fee would apply to her...
          If it applied to everyone then there would be a hell of a lot more moaning and complaining than there is now.

          Comment


          • #6
            If they were soo concerned with speeders, put a governor on the cars and top them out at 55mph

            57 in a 35 is defined as reckless and not just speeding? Interesting.

            A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than yesterday. Jonathan Swift 1667-1745

            It's only a conspiracy when your party is not in power.

            Comment


            • #7
              Boo F***** hoo. If they didn't drive like idiots, they would not be in that situation.
              "Life should be a mission and adventure, not just a mere existence"

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Bearcat357 View Post
                A. They ALL violated the law....but the media forgets about that and tries to make them all look like victims.....

                B. If the prego chick was that concerned about having her kid....TRY CALLING 9-1-1!! F/C has a very nice EMS system in place.......and they would have sent a very nice ambulance out to fetch her......though...she thought she had a legitimate reason to travel 57 in a 35......22 over.....and is whinning now....

                C. Slow the hell down!! One chick was going 80 in a 55...... I would have carted her *** to jail and made her post bond had that happened in Missouri and I was the arresting Officer.....

                Amazing..... God Bless the Liberal Washington Pravda.......
                You'll arrest for 25 over..? That's not even a must-appear in NH...
                summer - winter - work

                Comment


                • #9
                  25 mph over in Missouri is Careless and Imprudent Driving and a mandatory court appearance.

                  From what I have read, the high fees (notice I didnt say excessive) are for people that are repeat offenders. In other words, they didnt learn their lesson the first time, or the second time, or even the third time.

                  Personally, I dont feel sorry for them. There is an easy solution: OBEY THE LAW!

                  They are acting like the police are making up these violations and just handing out tickets without a reason.

                  Regards,
                  CA

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The fees only apply to excessive points accumulations (points earned for violations earned on/after July 1, 2007) and serious traffic offenses and misdemeanors earned on/sfter July 1, 2007. Points stemming from violations committed before that date are not covered, nor are serious violations committed before that date.

                    Keep watching for changes in this new law, there are strong forces pulling for it's repeal as well as it's expanded application to all motorist.
                    Originally posted by JLee View Post
                    You'll arrest for 25 over..? That's not even a must-appear in NH...
                    25 over is well into Reckless Driving here and it is not a prepayable offense. Not new, it become Reckless Driving when one exceeds the posted limit by 20 mph or anytime one exceeds 80 mph. Reckless Driving is not covered under the interstate reciprocity agreements as it's not a simple traffic infraction, it is in fact a class 1 misdemeanor. It is punisheable by a maximum fine of $2,500 and/or up to a maximum of 12 months in jail, and a possible license suspension to boot.



                    "That's right man, we've got mills here that'll blow that heap of your's right off the road."

                    "Beautiful Daughter of the Stars."(it's my home now)

                    >>>>> A Time for Choosing <<<<<

                    Retired @ 31yr 2mo as of 0000 hrs. 01-01-10. Yeah, all in all, it was good.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      As someone previously said: "Boo freakin' hoo."

                      How DIFFICULT is it to follow traffic law? I have not been pulled since 88 or 89. How, might you say, did I even manage that feat??????? By NOT driving like I own the road.

                      Of course the media's spin on this is that VA law makers are being unreasonable. I mean, look at thet POOR VICTIMIZED pregnant lady. She was on her way to the hospital to have a baby. She is so innocent. Idiot was only having pains (probably gas) and she didn't have the baby. Instead, she PUT EVERYONE ELSE AT RISK with her selfishness. The news also is HIDING (remember, they MUST create controversy to sell themselves) the fact that she probably has dozens of traffic offenses before this one.

                      How did it ever get this way: that it is our RIGHT to drive recklessly without having to be held accountable??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
                      Space for rent .........

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by JLee View Post
                        You'll arrest for 25 over..? That's not even a must-appear in NH...
                        @ 20 over....both our City and State PA's allowed us take a person post bond......and to do that....you're taking them to jail.....

                        I know a County Judge that would throw folks in jail for going over a 100MPH......

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by farewelltonavy
                          I think the issue is about selective enforcement of the law. These fines apply to people that live in Virginia only, and not to people like me who drive through there. Also, I feel the punishment is too harsh anyway, over $1000 fine for speeding? Come on, what is it going to be for DWI, life without parole ?
                          That's the only issue I have with it....

                          As stated....slow the hell down or don't drive like an idiot and Commonwealth Residents will be fine....

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by LeanG View Post
                            If they were soo concerned with speeders, put a governor on the cars and top them out at 55mph

                            57 in a 35 is defined as reckless and not just speeding? Interesting.
                            20 over is reckless in VA (or so I'm told by the friend of mine who found that out the hard way)
                            They're called 'learning opportunities'.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bearcat357 View Post
                              @ 20 over....both our City and State PA's allowed us take a person post bond......and to do that....you're taking them to jail.....

                              I know a County Judge that would throw folks in jail for going over a 100MPH......
                              Over 99 mph in California is a mandatory impound of the vehicle.

                              I would also think 20 over in a residential area (places with 25 and 35 mph limits) carries a higher risk, then 20 over on the freeway.

                              There aren't intersections or pedestrians on the freeway.
                              Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

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