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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

Are Fines Unconstitutional

Everybody knows there are instances in which the government can levy fines on individuals. They are often used as a deterrent to prevent people from breaking a law, but they are also common when people commit minor infractions, such as speeding or driving without a license.

Fines are levied all the time by the government, but are these fines legal and do they actually violate our constitutional rights?

In some cases, yes. And whether or not they are illegal all depends on the amount of the fine and to what crime it is related.

The Role of the Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment protects American citizens from excessive fines and bail that is set too high. But since it’s the government levying these fines and the fines are mostly at the discretion of a judge when levied based on individual matters, how can you tell if a fine is high enough to violate your Eighth Amendment rights?

Unfortunately, this too might need to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

If you need a review of the Eight Amendment, check it out here.

Finding a Fine Unconstitutional

It’s important to realize that if the government has made an effort to set a fine, it’s going to do everything in its power to show the fine is within its constitutional limits, but this doesn’t mean the court system is going to approve every fine just because it’s part of the overall system that created it. Judges are tasked with upholding the US Constitution and most people believe with very few exceptions most take their roles seriously. If you bring something to them that could potentially be a violation of your constitutional rights, they’ll fairly evaluate the situation.

So what should you do if a fine seem unconstitutional? Keep in mind this is not a “get out of jail free” card, so to speak. If you broke the law and are asked to pay a fine as punishment, and the fine is reasonable, chances are you’ll need to pay it. You’re only going to be able to argue on grounds of unconstitutionality if the fine is excessive.

How Do You Know a Fine is Excessive?

Unfortunately, what seems excessive to you might not be so for someone else. Fines aren’t set based on anyone’s personal wealth, so a standard fine of $1500 might be excessive to you, while it’s perfectly reasonable for someone else to pay. And the court is going to uphold the general standard, not base whether or not something is constitutional or not on your financial situation.

Your best bet if you believe a fine seems excessive is to contact an attorney. An attorney will be familiar with the usual fines for various legal infractions and be able to tell you if something seems excessive. And even if it turns out you don’t have a case and you must follow through with the fine, at least you’ll have peace of mind your rights were violated.

If you have questions about fines and penalties, and you would like to discuss your situation with an attorney, contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594 for more information or to schedule a consultation.

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