Virginia County Judge Declares New Driver Penalties Unconstitutional

Thursday , August 02, 2007




A Henrico County judge declared the state's new abusive driver fees unconstitutional Thursday.

General District Court Judge Archie Yeatts issued the ruling in the case of Anthony Price, who was facing his fifth charge of driving on a suspended license.

With his order, Yeatts instructed Henrico General District Court clerks not to collect civil remedial fees that can reach $1,000 or more for certain driving offenses.

The ruling is binding only in Henrico County but is being immediately appealed to Circuit Court and could eventually reach the Virginia Supreme Court.

Virginia politicians last month decided to pay for $65 million in new road and transportation projects by increasing fines for traffic violations to levels never seen by most Americans.

New penalties can reach as high as $1,050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit. That's $850 more than the previous fine for that offense. Other violations incurring a $1,050 fine include using the wrong turn signal, driving too fast for conditions, having below-standard tires or an "obstructed view," and reckless driving "on parking lots, etc."

The fees can be paid quarterly or in other installments. For instance, first-time drunk driving offenders will be required to pay $750 upon conviction and two more payments of $750 each for a total of $2,250 plus court costs payable over two years. That's up from a $300 fine for a first-time drunk driving conviction.

Click here to see a breakdown of the fees provided by the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court.

The fees have prompted protests from Virginians outraged that they apply only to state residents. Price's lawyers argued at a hearing last week that forcing him to pay $750 in fees that don't apply to people who live outside Virginia violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Because lawmakers wanted the revenue for highway maintenance, they enacted the surcharges as fees, which Virginia is powerless to collect outside its boundaries. The state can collect fines from out-of-state motorists, but the state constitution requires those revenues to be used exclusively for education.

FOX News' Kelley Beaucar Vlahos contributed to this report.