Monday, November 21, 2011

Prince Georges County Court Openly Presumes All Defendants Guilty

Prince George's County Courts have apparently now removed even the trappings of due process and the presumption of innocence from speed camera hearings.  On November 9th, Prince George's County Associate Judge Jean Baron made the statements that the court would not accept any evidence or arguments regarding the accuracy of the device, and that the only defense they would accept was that someone else was driving and to provide that person's identity.  The following opening statements were made by the judge to an entire room full of defendants in Forest Heights Speed Camera cases, before any cases were presented or any evidence or arguments heard:

"The only defense that the court is going to accept if you were not the driver of the vehicle, and you have the name and the address of the person who was driving, and you present that to the court under oath I will accept that as a defense.  Please don't tell me that you know you couldn't have been going that fast or there is something wrong with the equipment.  There is someone here from the jurisdiction who testifies that the equipment was calibrated and validated, or is "self calibrating", and then I'm not going to be able to accept that as a defense."

The statements were made less than two days after documents disclosed by the town of Cheverly were made public, about numerous technical problems they had experienced with the same type of speed cameras (made by Optotraffic, a division of Sigma Space Corporation) as the ones which issued the Forest Heights citations being contested.   The documented errors included an "invisible vehicle" traveling 76mph, a bike traveling 57mph, "unlikely" speed readings for "irregular shaped" vehicles and vehicles with ladder racks and trailers, and "false triggers" caused by moisture in the air.  The cameras Cheverly had been using had the same "self calibration" mechanism as the Forest Heights camera tickets being contested in the November 9th hearing, yet the documents did not state that the automatic calibration tests had failed when the errors occurred.  Cheverly and Optotraffic broke off their contract after the town raised the technical problems and Cheverly has since signed with a new vendor.  The contents of those documents supported claims that the Optotraffic cameras had produced significant number of errors, documented extensively on this site, while Optotraffic has flatly  denied they have experienced any errors.  Optotraffic cameras are also used by Prince George's County's new speed camera program and several other municipalities in Princec George's County.

Listen to the recording for yourself:
and decide whether a hearing held after statements such as the ones made on this day could even remotely be considered a fair, that it is possible the judge had not pre-judged every case that day.  And since she was so confident in what town officials would testify to and what the conclusion she would draw from that would be, should one not wonder what evidence or direction she had been given outside this courtroom setting, and don't the principals of our legal system require defendants be given access to that and have an opportunity to challenge it?

It is a sad sad day for Maryland drivers and for our Justice System.  I hate to be the bearer of  bad news, but it appears that all that stuff you believed in about "reasonable doubt" and the "presumption of innocence" are really just childish fantasies like the tooth fairy... not a fact on the ground for ordinary citizens.  When push comes to shove, the system will not suffer The People to interfere with their cash cow by contesting tickets or perhaps even proving the devices might be flawed.  This is How Justice Dies: with the Presumption of Guilt.

Note: does not believe this is reason to capitulate and stop contesting citations.  Citizens who believe they have received an unfair or incorrect ticket should contest it and insist as loudly as possible that they be provided real due process.  If the people meekly accept this, matters will only get worse.  Fighting back against an unjust system is your civic duty!!!