COLUMBUS, Ohio — Get caught speeding in Brecksville, and you might be out $95. But had you been a few miles down the road in Independence, you’d be out $142, or in Seven Hills, more than $200.
Municipal and mayor’s courts set varying fines and court costs for speeding, driving without a driver’s license, disorderly conduct and other minor offenses. The difference in costs may be an annoyance to some people, but sky-high costs can mess up finances for low-income drivers.
Sure, the easy answer is not to speed. But most of us get caught at some point or other.
And if drivers can’t pay, the punishment is usually more fines and costs, said Mike Brickner, policy director for the ACLU of Ohio. That can snowball into driver’s license suspension or even jail time.
“Low-income people are punished by these fines and costs and it digs them deeper and deeper into poverty,” Brickner said.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer has long been critical of mayor’s courts and unsubstantiated court fees. Pfeifer, whose final term on the court expires at the end of the year, said the fees were likely well-intentioned but have gotten out of hand.
“For thousands of Ohioans who subsisted near the minimum wage or just above, one traffic ticket for a minor traffic violation can exceed two days take-home pay for people who are struggling just to keep food on the table and pay rent for their families and that’s just wrong,” Pfeifer said.
Mayor’s courts are more likely to consider a defendant’s financial situation or be flexible with a payment plan, said Joy Bedard, president of the Association of Mayor’s Court Clerks of Ohio. Bedard, clerk at Grove City’s mayor’s court southwest of Columbus, said courts are aware of the fees they set.
Grove City decided against raising its modest $59 court cost fee a few years ago.
“We don’t want to penalize people for wanting to have their day in court,” Bedard said. “We’re not here to make money.”