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Fees don't please page 2
Horror stories about civil remedial fees probably won't come true

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Date published: 6/29/2007

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Third: Anyone--though his driving record be white as snow--is subject to these fees, which can't be set aside or pared down by a judge once the basic conviction occurs. A separate route to getting tagged with remedial add-on charges is to build up "bad points" on your driving record--though the costs here are more modest and often can be dissolved by enrollment in a state-approved better-driving course.

In sum, an 80-year-old widow with little income having her peace of mind shattered and her meager savings depleted by a single innocent traffic mistake is a highly unlikely--we're talking lotto-jackpot odds--scenario. But that's not to say the new law is Heaven-sent.

The fees apply only to Virginia residents, excluding out-of-staters who break the same laws. (Virginia can't force the Ohio DMV to apply it to lead-footed Buckeyes on our stretch of I-95.) Like punitive damages assessed in a lawsuit, the fees import criminal fines to the civil sphere and rename them. Also like punitive damages, which usually outstrip normal compensatory damages, the fees are larger than the fines and court costs associated with the linked infractions. For instance, drinking while driving is a Class 4 misdemeanor good for a maximum fine of $250. Under the remedial-fee schedule, you pay an extra $900. All in all, Richmond's gift to the Virginia Code raises interesting "equal protection" and "cruel and unusual punishment" constitutional arguments.

Perhaps most troubling, these fees exist expressly to "generate revenue from drivers whose proven dangerous driving behavior places significant financial burdens upon the Commonwealth." Traditional fines and court costs surely do that now. How much should individual miscreants--a high proportion of whom are single-offense, dumb kids (remember when you were 19, and be frightened)--be punished? It's not obvious how someone who operates a vehicle with a revoked license in Woodbridge helps wear out a road in Bristol or creates the need for a new cloverleaf in Virginia Beach.

Moreover, how will the fees corrupt the criminal-justice process? If the state falls short of revenue, will it goad localities to cast a wider net for rule-breaking motorists? Conversely, Mr. Albo concedes that some police officers may undercharge and some judges knock down charges to spare offenders--those who aren't otherwise bad sorts--a triple financial penalty.

The more dreadful speculations about civil remedial fees are mostly campfire tales. But we've been walked, watered, and brushed, and there's not a whiff of loco weed on our breath. So permit us to say this: Crimes deserve fines, roads deserve taxes. Mix the two? Neigh.


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