Washington lawyer Jared J. Scharf was hurrying back to his office from Dulles International Airport last October when a Park Service police officer stopped him on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and charged him with going 66 mph -- 16 mph over the limit.
Scharf decided to fight the ticket, and his struggle paid off -- a U.S. District Court judge in Alexandria decided to refund to him $25 of a $50 fine that had been levied by a magistrate.
But the judge also issued a ruling that will significantly boost the amount levied for misdemeanors committed on federal land in eastern Virginia, starting next Thursday.
As of that day, anyone convicted of such an offense -- anything from littering at National Airport to speeding on a parkway or playing baseball on wet ground in a national park -- will have to pay an additional $25 to a congressionally mandated fund for crime victims.
That's on top of the fine, which ranges from $10 to $100 and usually is $25 or $50 per offense.
When Scharf's traffic case reached District Judge James C. Cacheris last month, the judge exempted Scharf from paying the $25 fee, noting that federal courts in Alexandria applied the fee only to individuals who appeared in court, and not to those who mailed in their fines without contesting them.
Scharf had argued that that policy deterred people from seeking trial and Cacheris agreed, stating: "The inconsistent application of the special assessment needlessly chills the exercise of . . . the constitutional right to a trial."
He ordered U.S. Attorney Elsie L. Munsell's office to start collecting the $25 consistently as of next Thursday. The assessments, $25 for misdemeanors and $50 for felonies, were mandated by the recently enacted Comprehensive Crime Control Act.
Munsell said yesterday her plans are for federal officers to add on the $25 to the amount of the fine when giving out tickets. They also will pass out a paper explaining the $25 assessment, she said.
Cacheris' ruling is effective only in eastern Virginia. The federal courts in Washington and Maryland do not levy the $25 fee on those who pay federal misdemeanor fines by mail, officials in those jurisdictions said yesterday.
And there is a possibility that the fee may be dropped altogether in such cases throughout the nation later in the year.
The Justice Department is considering asking Congress to amend the legislation that set up the fund for victims of federal crimes to exclude the $25 assessment on misdemeanor offenses that carry the option of mailing in money in lieu of appearing in court.
Scharf's speeding fine was $40, an amount he thought he could lower if he pleaded guilty in a federal magistrate's court and offered "extenuating circumstances."
The magistrate did cut the fine to $25, but was promptly reminded by a prosecutor of the $25 fee, so Scharf was left with a $50 fine -- $10 more than he would have had to pay if he had mailed in the money.
That's when he decided to take the case to Cacheris.
"I was both amused and outraged; it offended my sense of justice," said Scharf, 37, who was working with the Justice Department's criminal tax division.
He appealed the magistrate's decision, arguing that he was being treated unfairly for exercising his constitutional right to a trial.
Because those who mailed in fines, and thus admitted guilt, were not required to pay the $25 for the fund, he should not either, he argued.
The list of misdemeanor offenses for federal properties in Virginia is 13 pages long -- in very small type. It covers activities by bicyclists, campers, hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers and water-skiers.
"I feel like I've been totally vindicated; I feel the Constitution has been vindicated," Scharf said from White Plains, N.Y., where he is now in private practice.
Scharf said he had not yet received the $25 Cacheris ordered returned to him.
And what will he use it for when he gets it?
"I think I'm going to to spend it on the ticket that I got two weeks ago in Washington . . . doing a U-turn on Maine Avenue," he said.