From the Richmond Times-Dispatch: ‘Rational basis’ for driver law at issue:
Was the General Assembly rational when it exempted residents of other states from Virginia’s new and controversial driver-fees statute?
Obvious jokes aside, both the lawyers and the judge homed in on that issue yesterday in the Richmond Circuit Court appeal case that challenges the constitutionality of the driver law.
Judge Walter Stout heard brief arguments from Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring, who defended the law, and from lawyer N. Barton Chucker, who is representing a traffic-court defendant.
(Anyone know if Walter Stout is related to a Neil Stout of Stout, Billy, & Seli?)
The “civil remedial fees” statute is meant to generate revenue from dangerous drivers — people convicted in court of certain traffic violations ranging from drunken driving to manslaughter.
At least they’re honest, I wonder what the average speed of the legislators is on I-95. I sure hope it isn’t about 80 MPH…
Chucker argued that the law is unconstitutional on due-process grounds because it applies only to Virginia residents and exempts others who drive in the state.
But the law could pass constitutional muster if the assembly had a “rational basis” for deciding the fees would be imposed only on Virginia residents. Proponents of the law as written say the fees would be too difficult and costly to collect from people in other states.
Yesterday, Stout wondered: “Isn’t the cost of collecting from out-of-state drivers a rational basis for making the distinction [between Virginia residents and others]?”
If you’re an out-of-state driver and you fail to pay your fine (not fee) when found guilty, your license will be suspended by your state; how much does that cost?
He decided he will make his ruling later.
Herring said he shares some of Chucker’s concerns about the law. “As an officer of the court and commonwealth’s attorney, I think the statute as it stands is constitutional,” Herring said. “It could be improved.”
Chucker represents Joseph C. Fields, on whom the law would impose a $1,050 driver fee for his reckless-driving conviction in Richmond General District Court.
Judge Thomas O. Jones of Richmond General District Court convicted Fields on July 7 and fined him $100 plus court costs. Chucker appealed the automatic driver fee, which was to be paid in three equal annual installments.
At a hearing Aug. 3, Jones sided with Chucker when he ruled that the law is unconstitutional.
“For me, it’s an absolute no-brainer,” Jones said from the bench.
Apparently, not for everyone else.
Herring, noting that every commonwealth’s attorney is obligated to defend state laws in court, appealed the case.
It’s pretty ironic that he had to note that.