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May 30, 2007

A history lesson (and an important precedent?) from the Ninth Circuit

As Howard Bashman details here, today was full of interesting rulings from the Ninth Circuit.  Sentencing fans will be most interested to learn that in US v. Trimble, No. 06-30298 (9th Cir. May 30, 2007) (available here), declares a $25 processing fee unconstitutional.  Here is how Judge Berzon's intriguing opinion for the majority begins:

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  The United States produced its first automobile in 1877, and the first traffic ticket issued in 1904.

Fast forward to 2005: Sahneewa Trimble was issued several traffic tickets, fairly serious ones, on a military base. She believed that she was charged too much — more than other drivers who did the same thing on federal property on the same day.  When Trimble appeared in court to plead guilty to the violations, the magistrate judge dismissed two of the six original citations but imposed a twenty-five dollar processing fee for three of the remaining ones.  Standard stuff, except that some individuals, like Trimble, were charged the fee while the others were not.  Why?  Because Trimble received a new version of the citation notice and the fortunate others received an older version.  So what follows is a tale of two forms, old and new. We reverse — demonstrating, again, that our Constitutional principles protect against monetary injuries large and small.

The dispute here obciously involves a relative triffle; indeed, I can't help but wonder how many federal tax dollars have aleady been spent adjudicating this $75 claim.  However, the principles and language supporting the holding in Trimble may have broader significance.  Indeed, Judge O'Scannlain seems concerned about what is said in Trimble, as he concurs separately with this paragraph:

I agree that no rational basis supports the discriminatory imposition of processing fees in this case.  However, the majority opinion exceeds the grounds necessary to decide this appeal. Accordingly, I concur only in the judgment.

Based on a quick read, I am not entirely sure whether the Trimble holding might provide a basis for questioning other sorts of criminal justice "injuries large and small."  Any readers have any suggestions or creative litigation thoughts?

May 30, 2007 at 04:26 PM | Permalink

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Circuit Judge Berzon hooked me with this opening paragraph of U.S. v. Trimble, case no. 06-30298 (May 30, 2007): The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  The United States produced its first automobile in 1877, and the first traffic ticket issued in ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 31, 2007 3:10:51 AM

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