Are California's steep traffic fines unconstitutional?

To the editor: The 8th Amendment to the U.S Constitution forbids imposing excessive fines. Courts have found a fine to be excessive when it is arbitrary, capricious or "so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law." ("Time to rein in California's traffic ticket surcharges," editorial, May 1)

The California Vehicle Code fine structure apparently meets this standard. However, if violators were provided the option of performing community service to work off their fines, the financial impact could be substantially reduced, thereby resolving the 8th Amendment issue.


Further, for the most part, the money raised from the add-on charges is being used to fund programs that are unrelated to the underlying violations and are traditionally funded by taxes through the state's general fund. The add-on fines are imposed to increase state revenues and are therefore underground taxes imposed without the required legislative processes.

If so, the imposition of these assessments must be halted, and those who have been improperly taxed deserve a refund.

Carolyn Magnuson, Long Beach

The writer, a lawyer, was an administrative law judge for 20 years.


To the editor: The Times' editorial on traffic ticket surcharges was fine as far as it went. Yes, the surcharges are wrong and should be eliminated. But we need to rethink the entire concept, as Finland has done.

Finland has instituted a system in which traffic ticket charges are based on one's ability to pay. In other words, the wealthy pay much more for moving violations than the poor. This is an attempt to equalize the pain.

It is past time that California instituted such a system.

Bob Lentz, Sylmar

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