Why fines are always higher than you expect

If you’ve ever gotten a ticket you’ve probably noticed that in addition to the fine there’s usually one or more additional ‘fees’ tacked on to the total.  And sometimes these fees can end up being much, much more than the fine itself!

As more laws are passed it gets easier to add more and more fines onto the original offense without much notice.  Case in point – one week ago on March 24th, 2017 the Governor of Tennessee signed a law which effectively increased the maximum fine for possessing less than a half ounce of marijuana by 10%, doubling the minimum fine at the same time.

This new law didn’t create a new fine, though.  Instead, a fee which was previously assessed on DUI and vehicular homicide cases was expanded to cover simple possession or exchange of marijuana.

You won’t find any mention of this in the news. It’s small and obscure enough to have even stayed hidden. Few will even know about it until it’s time to pay.

The stated fine is rarely the actual penalty. Fees can massively increase the out of pocket costs and often vary significantly within a state from city to city and county to county.  And they’re always changing.

With so much to cover, small law changes like this aren’t on the radar of most media outlets even though they affect many people often far more directly than anything else they cover. When even dedicated groups like Tennessee NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) don’t notice these changes it shows how sneakily they can occur.