A Virginia judge has put up a roadblock to the state’s sizable penalties for bad driving.
In the first known court challenge to the fees, Henrico County General District Judge Archer L. Yeatts ruled that the new fees for bad driving are unconstitutional.
A higher court must still rule if the fees, which are earmarked to pay for highway maintenance, are to banned statewide.
The fees can total several thousand dollars and are assessed only on Virginia residents, not out-of-state drivers.
The case of Anthony Price, charged with his fifth violation for driving on a suspended license, was the test case for challenging the fees. Price was convicted and sentenced to a mandatory 10 days in jail and a fine of $250. The new fees could cost him an additional $750.
The penalties target certain traffic offenses committed after July 1. They range from a total of $750 for driving with a revoked or suspended license to $3,000 for driving-related felonies. Repeat speeders with at least eight demerit points can be hit with a $100 annual surcharge plus $75 for each point beyond eight.
Some defense lawyers and motorists have argued that the fees are unfair because nonresidents don’t pay the fees— a feature they maintain violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protectionn.
Some drivers in the state are upset at the size of the fees and have called upon the General Assembly to repeal the law. But Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Republican House Speaker William J. Howell have thus far rejected calls for a special session to reconsider the legislation.
Judge Yeatts said a higher Circuit Court judge would have to decide whether to block General District Courts like his across the state that handle traffic cases from assessing the fees.
Today, Gov. Kaine issued a statement indicating he is willing to address the public complaints about the fees.
“The issue of the constitutionality of the abusive driver fees is in litigation, and it is not appropriate for me to comment on pending litigation,” Kaine said. “Whether the courts find the law constitutional or not, as a policy matter I am committed to addressing the concerns Virginians have raised about this law, including its application to out-of-state drivers.”
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