Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ticket Challenges Successful More Often, But Some Left Waiting

In 2009, before speed cameras moved statewide Montgomery County claimed to have had a 99.7% conviction rate for speed camera hearings and that only ten defendants had ever been found not guilty.  Since then however, the odds appear to be slightly more favorable for defendants as more cases are being dismissed for various reasons, with defendants in some jurisdictions having more success than others.

A number of defendants who received tickets from College Park stating that they were speeding in a school zone had their citations thrown out on the grounds that the location was not a designated school zone.  The location was in fact an "Institute of Higher Education" zone, a new designation created by a 2010 law which applies exclusively to College Park.  In two separate hearings, every defendant receiving such a citation who plead "Not Guilty" had their citations dismissed, with the judge referring to it as an "improper filing document".  In the same hearings defendants who plead "Guilty With Explanation" were sentenced to pay fines plus court costs (as normally defendants who plead Not Guilty have their cases heard last).  College Park and their contractor, Optotraffic, have apparently changed the tickets since then, so this most likely will only apply to tickets from the first few months of College Park's program.

In Montgomery County, one attorney, James Liskow, successfully appealed a speed camera ticket in circuit court, and won by arguing that the speed camera statute as written required citations to certify that a list of requirements in transportation article 21-809(b) and that this was not done.  Because this was a circuit court, in theory this could have a binding affect on other courts, if a defendant can successfully argue this (However we will caution that  presenting this argument well may be somewhat difficult for someone who is not experienced in law).  It is likely that the county will either make some administrative change, appeal the decision, or seek a change to the law to circumvent this problem before long.

In other locations such as Forest Heights, defendants were able to use time-distance calculations to argue that they were not in fact speeding.  However defendants who receive tickets from Montgomery County, Baltimore, and the State of Maryland may be out of luck when it comes to actually proving errors from photos: tickets from those programs now only display timestamps accurate to within 1 second, the timestamps on the two images either being identical or differing by 1 second, which is nowhere near enough precision to prove even a very large error.  Such timestamps show two 00's after the 'seconds'... fractions of seconds are shown but are always zero.  This implies that the cameras and tickets provided by their contractor, ACS, are capable of recording and/or displaying more precise timestamps, but that a decision was made not to do so.  We have received reports that defendants have successfully argued that such timestamps were invalid in Baltimore City, however in Montgomery County judges ruled against one defendant who attempted to argue against this.

We have also received numerous reports of long waits for court hearings, particularly in Prince George's County.  One defendant fighting a ticket from Riverdale Park, who claims he was traveling far slower than the 60mph speed on his citation and that the images prove this, has been waiting since January for a hearing date.  Some defendants from Forest Heights stated to StopBigBrotherMD that they have been waiting close to a year for hearing dates.  In some cases after they requested hearings defendants have received penalty notices or statements saying their registrations would be suspended if they did not pay by a certain date.  We've not heard from defendants whose registrations were actually suspended in this situation, however there was a reported instance where Baltimore mistakenly suspended the registrations of 8000 drivers awaiting hearings for red light camera tickets, where the waiting list had apparently reached 15 months in some cases.

StopBigBrotherMD gets much of its information from people who are challenging tickets.  If you are fighting a ticket in an upcoming hearing, particularly if it is because you believe the ticket is in error, please contact us.