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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 17 2015, @11:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the cheaper-to-pay-someone-else-to-drive dept.

Joe Pinsker writes at The Atlantic that Finnish businessman Reima Kuisla was recently caught going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone in his home country and ended up paying a fine of $56,000. The fine was so extreme because in Finland, some traffic fines, as well as fines for shoplifting and violating securities-exchange laws, are assessed based on earnings—and Kuisla's declared income was €6.5 million per year. Several years ago another executive was fined the equivalent of $103,000 for going 45 in a 30 zone on his motorcycle.

Finland’s system for calculating fines is relatively simple: It starts with an estimate of the amount of spending money a Finn has for one day, and then divides that by two—the resulting number is considered a reasonable amount of spending money to deprive the offender of. Then, based on the severity of the crime, the system has rules for how many days the offender must go without that money. Going about 15 mph over the speed limit gets you a multiplier of 12 days, and going 25 mph over carries a 22-day multiplier. Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland also have some sliding-scale fines, or “day-fines,” in place.

[More after the break.]

Should such a system be used in the United States? After all, wealthier people have been shown to drive more recklessly than those who make less money. For example Steve Jobs was known to park in handicapped spots and drive around without license plates. But more importantly, day-fines could introduce some fairness to a legal system that many have convincingly shown to be biased against the poor. Last week, the Department of Justice released a comprehensive report on how fines have been doled out in Ferguson, Missouri. "Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs," it concluded.

The first day-fine ever in the U.S. was given in 1988, and about 70 percent of Staten Island’s fines in the following year were day-fines. A similar program was started in Milwaukee, and a few other cities implemented the day-fine idea. Nevertheless, in America, flat-rate fines are the norm and day-fines remain unusual and even exotic.

According to Judith Greene, who founded Justice Strategies, a non-profit research organization, all of these initiatives were effective in making the justice system fairer for poor people. “When considering a proportion of their income, people are at least constantly risk-averse. This means that the worst that would happen is that the deterrent effect of fines would be the same across wealth or income levels,” says Casey Mulligan. "We should start small—say, only speeding tickets—and see what happens."

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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:53PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:53PM (#158842)

    It all depends on what the intent is of the fine.

    • If the intent is to cover damages to society. Then you can't really set a fixed fine amount since in many instances there may be no damages at all, while in some instances where someone becomes gravely injured or even died as a result of the transgression, the damages will be extremely high. People could speed all they want and only get in trouble once an accident happens. In that case, the damages may be so high that the individual may not even be able to pay for all the damage, but the deed has been done and cannot be reversed. Linking fines to damages for these reasons doesn't make much sense.
    • More likely, the intent of most fines is as a deterrent to prevent people from committing the undesirable acts in the first place. Damages is then considered a separate concept and is determined and charged separately from the fine, when appropriate. For the fine to serve as a deterrent, it needs to be suitably high that depriving the fined amount causes the individual enough inconvenience/suffering to avoid committing the offense in the first place. If the fine is so low that it's barely noticeable on your bank balance, it will not have the desired deterrent effect. From this perspective, an income based fine makes sense, even though it can be argued to be less fair towards higher earners.
    • If the intent of the fine is revenue generation, then you have bigger problems...
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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:58PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:58PM (#158864)

    A third point on how a non-means tested system works, is more like insurance premium? Everyone pays a little, high users/risk takers simply pay more. Not to say income tested govt fees shouldn't apply. Revenue raising is a whole other issue, but consider that rich party with the big fine, would bother to pay lawyer, who more diligently (paid to) seeks reasons for dissmissal. Surely that raises chance money grabbing arrangement is found out.