Excessive Fines

So what exactly is an excessive fine? Is it an exact amount or does it differ depending on who has to pay it? The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution says excessive fines shall not be imposed. What does that mean?

We may get to find out because a class-action complaint was filed in federal court in Los Angeles last week over an alleged violation of the excessive fines clause. The fine was $490. Is that excessive?

If nothing else, this is an interesting illustration of the fact that time is not money. A 20-year sentence for jaywalking is a lot for anyone. A $1,000 fine is a lot for some people and not for others. You can’t compare the two.

So should the excessiveness of a fine of $490 be determined by the defendant’s income level or spending habits? Would it be worth imposing $490 fines if you had to investigate everyone’s salaries, side-gigs and bank accounts?

In case you’re wondering, the class action was filed on behalf of people caught making right turns in Culver City at red lights without stopping first. Not only did this violate the Eighth Amendment, according to the complaint, but it was also just plain wrong, because state law set the fine for red light right turns at $238. It seems, said the suit, that Culver City was automatically charging the higher amount — the amount for just plain running a red light — for anyone caught by intersection cameras.

“Typical of persons who received such citations, plaintiff trusted the Culver City Police Department, and was ignorant of the fact that defendants were grotesquely betraying the public’s trust by deliberately charging right hand turners with violating California Vehicle Code Section 21453(a) as opposed to California Vehicle Code Section 21453(b) for purposes of collecting $490 as opposed to $238.”

I hate it when I’m grotesquely betrayed. (Side note: Is calling this a grotesque betrayal excessive? Is this supposed to be ironic?)

Anyway, this is not chump change. The complaint goes on to claim that more than 75 percent of the violations caught by the cameras are for right turns (in other words, there aren’t all that many people whizzing straight through red lights) and that the number of class plaintiffs “is in the range of tens of thousands and probably exceeds 50,000 individuals.”

Oops. Let’s hope Culver City hasn’t spent all that money yet.

By the way, there’s an easy solution here for the excessiveness problem — use a sliding scale depending on the Blue Book value of the photographed car. Anyone in a Tesla can afford the fine.

Florida football. A Florida appellate panel last week split 2-1 on the issue of whether a company executive can bind his company to a contract “while tailgating outside a football game.”

I expect this will be appealed to a higher court but, for now, don’t sign any contracts before kickoff.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Interesting precedent. The controversial new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh may have an unexpected ally on the court.

It seems that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also likes beer. At least on an intellectual level.

I refer you to an article on the Supreme Court Historical Society website subtitled “Justice for Beer Drinkers” in which we learn that Ginsburg, while an attorney working with the ACLU, took up the fight for equality in beer drinking. She even wrote to the lawyer who brought the beer case to say she was “delighted to see the Supreme Court is interested in beer drinkers.”

You see? It is possible for us to come together.

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