Paying for injustice

I mentioned previously how Massachusetts charges you a fee for a mock trial where there are no witnesses and the defendant is presumed guilty. Now I explain why that is literally true.

A decade ago the legislature noticed the high number of people contesting traffic tickets and saw a revenue opportunity. They added a fee to contest a traffic ticket. (MGL 90C-3(A)(4))

If you don’t pay the $25 “not guilty” fee, you are guilty. And you have to pay anyway.

If you do pay you get a hearing with a magistrate. You probably won’t see the ticketing officer. Most departments send a representative to read from the ticket. You can cross-examine the ticket, but it won’t have much to say.

The verdict is essentially random. Maybe the magistrate needs to meet a conviction quota. Maybe he’s sympathetic to the unfairness of the system or the financial burden of tickets. Maybe he’s too drunk to care either way. You get all these and more.

The Supreme Court said this process was legal because you have the right to ask for a new trial with a real judge.

That was in 1989. In 2016 you have the right to pay $50 for a new trial with a real judge.

The good news is, most judges want the ticketing officer to show up to court.

Ironically, at this point you want to be ticketed by a crooked cop. Bad cops arrange to get paid for court appearances without showing up. That’s illegal, but police unions are very powerful. Good cops have to put in their 15 minutes to get paid for a four hour shift. That’s legal, because police unions are very powerful.

The bad news is, at both levels of traffic court, the law says whatever is written on the ticket is true. You have to prove it is wrong. The judge does not have to believe anything you say, but he does have to believe the ticket.

That means you are presumed guilty. You are suing the government attempting to prove you did not commit the offense of driving through a yellow light or whatever.

It’s not illegal to drive through a yellow light, but it will cost you $25 to even make that argument, and $75 if you want to tell it to somebody who cares.

The opinions expressed in belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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