Fines, Surcharges & Assessments, Dishonesty & Damage Done
Posted by Edmund Folsom, Esq.
April 28, 2016
In Maine, when a person receives a fine, there is a “surcharge” of 20% added to the balance due. And then there’s a Victim Compensation Fund assessment of $35.00 per felony count and $20.00 per misdemeanor. Also, for those convicted of OUI, there’s an “Intoxilizer” surcharge of $30.00, unless the conviction is for operating under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs, in which case the OUI surcharge is $125.00. Let’s say a person is convicted of OUI involving drugs and receives the minimum fine of $500.00. The total tab for the $500.00 fine is $745.00. Of that amount, $600.00 goes into the General Fund, while $125.00 accrues to the Highway Fund and (I think) the other $20.00 actually accrues to the Victim Compensation Fund. Over the years, as the percentage amount of the surcharge on fines has risen, and assessments and specialty surcharges have been tacked on, it’s occurred to me that one day the amount of surcharges and assessments will exceed the amount of the fines they augment. That would be so fundamentally dishonest it will surely come to pass.
Recently, I came across an opinion piece written by North Carolina District Court Judge Marcia Morey. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/durham-news/dn-opinion/article72612127.html Morey laments that North Carolina’s fine assessment/collection regime for traffic offenses is treated as a cash cow and that it sometimes leads to the equivalent of debtors’ prison for the impoverished who are caught up in the State’s frenzy for greenbacks. Here’s the rub for me: the system Judge Morey writes about imposes “court costs” of $180.00, even for fines of $25.00 or $50.00. But those “court costs” are not applied to the Court’s budget; instead they are dumped into the General Fund. In Maine, our fine and surcharge system is way short of honest, but North Carolina’s system rarefies dishonesty and cubes it. Somewhere, an envious legislator’s interest is piqued, I just know it.
Let’s take a look at what happens after a fine is imposed. Sometimes a fine is due the day it is imposed; sometimes it is payable in installments, each due on a certain date; and sometimes it is due in full on a particular future date. According to Maine Supreme Judicial Court Order JB-05-26 (A. 8-15) if a payment is late, a late fee is to be assessed as follows: (1) for a Violations Bureau (traffic infraction) fine, the late fee is $50.00; (2) for all other types of fines, the late fee is $25.00 for a fine of $100.00 or less, $50.00 for a fine more than $100.00 but not more than $500.00, and $100.00 for fines over $500.00. The court (including the Violations Bureau) will also cause a person’s license to be suspended for non-payment. To have a license reinstated from a suspension for failure to pay, a person must pay the fine, the surcharge, the assessment and the late fee, and then pay a $50.00 reinstatement fee to the Secretary of State. Of course, the court will also issue an arrest warrant if the person fails to pay a fine in a criminal case (as opposed to a civil or traffic infraction). Yes, there is such a thing as debtor’s prison, but the government is the only entity that can put you there, so I always tell people to beg and borrow from whomever they can to get the State paid off. No greedy, evil landlord or corporation can send police to arrest you and throw you in jail for owing them money- only the government can do that.
If a person who lacks the funds to pay the fine, assessment, fees and surcharges makes the mistake of driving (say) to work to get the money to make the payment, the person will be operating after suspension (OAS). Depending whether the particular OAS offense is a civil infraction or a crime, it will be punishable by at least another fine, and perhaps by a jail sentence and an additional license suspension of 60 days imposed by the BMV. If the OAS is a criminal offense (because the person was previously adjudicated of a civil OAS), the person might have to come up with money for bail and a bail commissioner’s fee to secure release from jail. Occasionally, the time in jail leads to loss of employment, which makes it even less likely the person will be able to pay the fine, surcharge, assessment and fee to get his or her license back, which in turn makes it very difficult to get to and from any new job the person might otherwise be able to secure. Anyone who does not have a lot of discretionary income or whose attention to detail is a little lacking can easily find herself or himself pulled into this bureaucratic and regulatory morass. In fact things can get much worse than what I have outlined above. So, my advice to anyone who owes a fine is to do whatever it takes, short of committing a new crime, to get the money to pay The Man off and get The Man out of your life. Sure, if you owe money to the Mafia or a drug cartel and you know they’ll put a contract out on you if you don’t pay, then pay the Mafia or the drug cartel first. But second in line behind the Mafia or drug cartel is the government. There are very few who are more willing or able to put the hurt on you to collect money owed than the government. And yes, it is in fact all about the money.
Wrong ’em boyo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK03STRXWGo