Woman in labor fined $1150 for speeding to hospital

Discussion in 'Old Threads' started by syscom3, Aug 12, 2007.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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

    By Jonathan Mummolo
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, August 12, 2007; A01

    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."

    Armed With Checkbooks and Excuses, First Casualties of Va. Fees Go to Court - washingtonpost.com
     
  2. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    Thanks to the newly formed "Hampton Roads Transportation Authority", we
    in Virginia now have taxation without representation. A few
    years ago this was put on a referendum, and was voted down. Those
    in power decided we should have one anyway. The HRTA has the power
    to put tolls on any roads they see fit, added (excessive) abuser fees to
    those fines already in place for speeding, DUI, driving w/o a licence or
    on a suspended licence, reckless driving (20 mph over the posted limit),
    changing lanes w/o using a signal, and other minor stuff. The abuser fees
    range from $700.00 to $2,500.00 depending on the infraction. And.....
    they are in addition to the fine imposed by the judge !

    Several cases have been challenged in court, and the judges have ruled
    the new abuser fees are un-constitutional, because they only apply
    to those with Va. drivers licences. If you're passing through, you're
    exempt. It's headed for the Va. Supreme court as I write this and it
    will be interesting to see what happens.

    Gov. Kane changed the bill when it hit his desk. It originally applied to
    all drivers, but he changed it because he sez it would be too hard to
    collect from out-of-state drivers.

    Charles
     
  3. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    At what point can you demand a jury trial rather than pay the fine?
     
  4. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    You got me on this, Oh Legal One..... the abuser fees are in addition to
    the fine which is probably etched in stone. If you're found guilty, the
    abuser fees kick in on top of the fine.

    Charles
     
  5. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    Something similar happened to my wife while I was in Iraq.

    She was driving her friend who went into labor to the hospital and was pulled over by an MP.

    Rather than escort her to the hospital he gave her a ticket with my wifes friend in the car going into labor.

    Needless to say she took it all the way to the Rear Detachment Commander and the ticket was revoked.

    I hope the MP got busted for it.
     
  6. Soundbreaker Welch?

    Soundbreaker Welch? Active Member

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    It does seem like the Court doesn't care in Virginia.
     
  7. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    It's not a question of the courts in Va. not careing. The Hampton Roads
    Transportation Authority is the one who doesn't care about the little man.
    These people who sit on this "board" (for lack of a better word) have NOT
    been elected to this position. The mayor of Norfolk (Paul Fraim) is the
    Chairman. Other members of this "board" are the mayors of all the cities
    affected by this HRTA. A couple have resigned in protest. Somebody said
    we should have a HRTA, and said that seven of the twelve cities had
    to vote FOR it in order for the HRTA to be created. The citizens of the
    respective cities had no say in the vote, the city councils voted. All
    this came up a couple of years ago, on a referendum, and the people
    of Va. Beach vote it down. But..... we have the HRTA anyway. The
    money that is collected from the "abuser fees" is to pay for roads,
    bridges, tunnels, etc. This HRTA also has the power to place tolls
    on roads, bridges, etc to help pay for future roads. Just who in the
    hell gave "them" this power is beyond me. You can bet your sweet
    @ss that come November, the people will speak.....five by five or
    loud and clear or QRK5 (which is where the 5 X 5 came from). BIG
    TIME....

    Charles
     
  8. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Well ccheese, now is the time to step work to get those jack boots out of there.

    Ever heard of "recall"?
     
  9. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Damn, if this doesn't scream of an organized crime racket or a huge payola scam, I'll eat my camera. Someone is getting big kickbacks from this, I can almost guarantee it. This is just crazy.
     
  10. Konigstiger205

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    Harsh laws are good if applied to the right persons but this wasn't the case.For example my country's laws are too soft...25 years of prison for a murder....common....
     
  11. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    If you have "good behavior" here in the US, you can get out in 7 for murder.
     
  12. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    What happened with protect and serve in this case?
     
  13. mosquitoman

    mosquitoman Active Member

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    Britain's just as bad on speeding, a hospital car carrying organs for a transplant was given a speeding ticket after being caught by a camera some time last year. The ticket got overturned in the end and rightly so.
     
  14. Konigstiger205

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    This world is getting more dumb every day....:violent1:
     
  15. Negative Creep

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    Nothing suprises me when it comes to speeding. Governments around the world all seem to have cottoned onto how easy it is to make money from people committing a minor offence
     
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