12/26/2007Virginia Legislator Introduces More Remedial Fee Legislation
Traffic lawyer Dave Albo offers legislation to increase penalties on motorists whose licenses are suspended by increased fees on speeding tickets.
Despite the public outrage at the imposition of the civil remedial fee speeding ticket tax, Virginia Delegate David B Albo (R-Springfield) is proposing to boost penalties further on those already subjected to the tax. Earlier this month Albo filed House Bill 91, a measure designed to "crack down" on unlicensed drivers. It will be considered in the new legislative session which begins in January.
"No person... shall drive any motor vehicle on any highway in the Commonwealth until such person has applied for a driver's license... satisfactorily passed the examination, and obtained a driver's license, nor unless the license is valid," the proposal states. "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person charged with a violation of this section shall be placed under arrest and shall have his fingerprints and photograph taken."
The proposal sets the punishment for a first offense as a class 2 misdemeanor and a class 1 for the second, the punishment for which is up to a year in prison and a fine of $2500. But the law's primary target is not illegal drivers who have never held a valid license as the language seems to imply. A 2004 state appeals court case, Shreve v. Virginia, concluded that a suspended license was not "valid" for the purpose of imposing punishment. That means Albo's measure would force police to arrest anyone whose license has been suspended, even if only over a technicality or database error. The majority of those subjected to the new punishment would come from Albo's own civil remedial fee legislation.
Since July, a Virginia motorist ticketed, for example, for driving more than 10 MPH over the limit on portions of Interstate 85 automatically is charged with "reckless driving." Upon conviction, a judge has no choice but to impose the $1050 "abuser fee" in addition to a discretionary fine of up to $2500. A motorist who cannot afford such stiff penalties will have his license suspended. This places many in the position of choosing between driving illegally to keep their job and following the new law.
In the next two years, nearly half a million Virginia motorists will fall into this trap, according to a report by the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability. The numbers track with the experience of other states like Michigan and Texas which have similar ticket taxes. Texas, for example, has suspended 1.5 million licenses as a direct result of its so-called driver responsibility law.
"When you turn law-abiding people into criminals, they lose all respect for the law," Michigan Judge Michael Jarreau testified before a state legislative committee. "I will almost never take a guilty plea for driving with a suspended license."
Albo heads the traffic law section for the Albo and Oblon, LLP law firm. State House Majority Leader H Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who helped push the original fee legislation into law, is also a traffic lawyer.
HOUSE BILL NO. 91
Offered January 9, 2008
Prefiled December 14, 2007
A BILL to amend and reenact § 46.2-300 of the Code of Virginia, relating to driving without a driver's license; penalties.
Patrons-- Albo and Rust
Committee Referral Pending
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That § 46.2-300 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 46.2-300. Driving without license prohibited; penalties.
No person, except those expressly exempted in §§ 46.2-303 through 46.2-308, shall drive any motor vehicle on any highway in the Commonwealth until such person has applied for a driver's license, as provided in this article, satisfactorily passed the examination required by § 46.2-325, and obtained a driver's license, nor unless the license is valid.
A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person charged with a violation of this section shall be placed under arrest and shall have his fingerprints and photograph taken.