Monday, February 27, 2012

Legislation Needed to Address Due Process Violations and Camera Accuracy

StopBigBrotherMD has now been reporting on speed cameras in Maryland for 4 years.  We have documented numerous violations of due process and basic constitutional rights, as well as the outrageous conflicts of interest which exist in the system.  We have also documented numerous errors by speed cameras. We are sad to say that the legal rights of drivers are more under siege today than at any point in the past.

However there is some hope.  Sixteen state Delegates have sponsored legislation ( House Bill 1044 ) which would address some of the worst violations which have taken place.  The extremely reasonable provisions of HB1044 include the following:

  • Requiring the actual operator of a speed camera to appear at a hearing if requested by the defendant of a speed camera citation.  Unfortunately, some jurisdictions have denied that they are required to present the actual operator of the device, even if a speed camera defendant follows the directions on the back of he citation stating that they can request this.  At best, these jurisdictions will send "AN" operator as a representative, one who had nothing to do with the actual operation of the device and cannot testify as to whether it was operated properly, or even whether they were working on the day they "performed" the device's daily testing log.  The US 6th amendment is supposed to protect your right to face your accuser, but in Maryland the government believes this applies only to serial killers and not to motorists.
  • Requiring that if speed camera images can be used to convict a defendant of a speed camera violation, the court must also permit a defendant to use such images in defense of a violation.  Unfortunately, some judges have gone so far as to openly state that there can be no defense challenging the accuracy of the device.  This was apparently to support claims by the vendor for Prince George's County speed camera program that the images captured by their device do not constitute 'evidence' of speed.  Under those conditions images cannot be used to exonerate a motorist who believes the device was in error, only to convict them.  NHTSA standards for photo enforcement specifically describe how photos can be used to provide verification of a recorded speed reading.
  • Ensure that speed cameras are certified by a testing laboratory which is not affiliated with the manufacturer of the device.  Having the manufacturer certify their own device is a huge conflict of interest, much like asking a student to grade his own exam.  Unfortunately the vendor for the SHA, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and several other municipalities permitted speed cameras to be used for over the year which had been 'certified' by the same company which built them.  This only stopped several months after we exposed it... after the devices had issues hundreds of thousands of tickets.
  • Requiring that speed cameras meet national standards set by the IACP(International Association of Chiefs of Police) in order to ensure accuracy and reliability.  Despite claims that speed cameras are tested both annually and daily, the word "Accuracy" does not appear anywhere in the current law.  Simply testing a device to an arbitrary "manufacturer specification" does not prove accuracy!  An objective standard is needed.  Unfortunately certain types of speed cameras used in the state have been PROVEN TO PRODUCE ERRORS, and are not on the IACP Conforming Products List. 
  • Ensuring that members of the public have a right to inspect speed camera calibration records, including the use of such information to prepare their defense in advance of a speed camera hearing.  Some motorists seeking basic information which vendors are required by law to keep 'on file' have been denied access to those records.  Blocking access to such records prior to their hearing may prevent motorists from being able to prepare a defense.
  • Forbidding contractors who administer and process speed camera citations from being paid based on the number of tickets issued.  Many local and county speed camera programs have circumvented an existing requirement designed to prevent contractors from being paid based on the number of tickets issued simply by declaring the contractor (who substantially controls the devices) does not "operate" it.   But more than that, these contractors also have control over the chain of evidence... police review citations using software provided by the contractors.  AND the contractors are also responsible for scheduling court hearings.  This makes it possible for them to manipulate the timing and setting of court hearings to their advantage.  Some defendants have had to go excessively long periods of time awaiting hearings, receiving late notices with additional penalties and in some cases having renewal of their registrations denied.  That unacceptable practice borders on extortion.
The lawmakers who are supporting the rights of Maryland drivers by sponsoring this legislation are Delegates Susan K. McComas, Kathy Afzali, Gail H. Bates, John W. E. Cluster, Jr., Adelaide C. Eckardt, Donald B. Elliott, William J. Frank, Ron George, Glen Glass, Michael J. Hough, Nicholaus R. Kipke, Michael A. McDermott, Pat McDonough, Warren E. Miller, Joseph J. Minnick, and Nancy R. Stocksdale.

Nothing in HB1044 prevents speed cameras from being used for a genuine safety related purpose, if such a thing were likely to happen.  However the contractors and local governments who are earning enormous profits from speed cameras are lining up to oppose it. They will most likely invent fictitious reasons why this bill is a bad thing and try to misrepresent its provisions to the public.  But what they REALLY care about is ensuring that they can continue to take enormous amounts of money from people without providing real due process and without any independent oversight.  They have tons of resources to throw into blocking this bill. College Park's program alone collected $3.6million worth of fines in FY2011, Baltimore City's collected $16.8million, and Forest Heights collected $3million worth of fines compared to the entire town's budget of $2million before they got speed cameras!  Their real motive is clear: Speed camera money is supposed to be "free money".

Without YOUR support there is no question that they will win.  And IF they win, then it will be YOUR legal rights which have been sold out.

A hearing for HB1044 is scheduled before the House Environmental Matters Committee on March 9 in Annapolis.  You can show your support by calling or writing members of the committee, or your own state lawmakers

Thank you.

     Ron Ely
     Editor and Founder of StopBigBrotherMD.org