Sunday, September 21, 2008

Exorbitant Traffic Court Costs

Have you been to traffic court recently in McHenry County?

If you have, you know to take your high blood pressure medication before you ever go back. And, if you haven't, you'd better get a line-of-credit set up at your bank before you go.

The judges warn those in the court room as court starts that court costs are high AND that they are not set by the judges. Court costs are set by the State legislature and by the McHenry County Board. So, if you have a gripe, you know whom to call. And it won't be Ghostbusters!

Just try to find out how much your court costs will be, before you go to court. Right... just try. Unless policies have changed recently, the traffic court clerks will not tell you how much court costs will be. They'll have lots of excuses, like "It depends" and "We don't know" and "The computer calculates them" and ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.

Well, they should know, and they should be able to tell you. Of course, then they'd have to deal with the screams and gnashing of teeth over the phone (oh, the verbal abuse, you mean...).

I watched one person's case - no front license plate (hadn't replaced it after an accident) and a cover over the rear plate. I suspect the judge went easy on the guy, knowing how much the court costs were going to be. The driver probably felt some relief when the judge fined him $10 on each charge. But I'll bet the driver found out that the court costs would be $125 on each of the two tickets, thus costing him $270 to get out of the courthouse, not $20 and change.

Pick up a copy of the schedule of court costs at the traffic clerk's payment window. You'll have to insist on it. The first time I asked for a schedule, the clerk looked at me like there wasn't any such form. However, I could see it, right on the counter on her side of the window.

Is that bulletproof glass? Maybe so. You never know when a clerk might go postal and start shooting people trying to pay their fines. I wonder if employees are checked as carefully as visitors for contraband and weapons. Can we really feel safe in our courthouse?

I guess we can, because I inadvertently had a pocket dictator with me when I headed to court recently. I tried to check it with the guard at the door, but he told me in no uncertain terms that, if he took it from me, I would not get it back.

Of course, I was ready to argue that point with him, because NO court employee is going to confiscate a person's private property, voluntarily surrendered, and then going to keep it. His "take it back to your car or lose it" offer will be taken up another day with the person in charge of court security.

But back to the court costs. There should be an easy-to-use, court-cost calculator online right on the McHenry County Courthouse website. Even if it gave only a rough estimate of court costs, it would be helpful.

It would also help those with tickets decide whether to plead guilty or fight it. If you knew your court costs would be $125-150 on top of a $75 fine, would you fight it? Especially if you thought you were not guilty?

It's a shame that sometimes people plead guilty, because it's cheaper to pay a $75 fine than to go to court and risk a total cost of $225 ($75 fine + $150 court costs).

Many think the judge will automatically believe the cop, more so than believing the driver who got the ticket. I don't think so. It's just that most drivers don't know the law or don't know how to defend themselves. Knowing the law is critical; you have to know whether or not you did violate it. Defending yourself (whether with a lawyer or on your own) is important, if you are not guilty or if you believe the officer cannot prove you are guilty.

1 comment: said...

I got two tickets, one for an expired license sticker, and one ticket for not having insurance( which I have now). The judge fined me 15 dollars for the expired sticker and 100 dollars. I walked out of there 500 dollars in the hole. I get mad just talking about it. How can they justify tacking on 380 dollars to a 125 dollar fine? I feel like I was robbed. I'm writing to my state legislator because I want to vent about this.