Monday, June 2, 2014

A day in speed camera court

Speed camera cases are heard by a variety of judges who are assigned on a rotating schedule.

Here's how the morning court session went on a recent day in Montgomery County.  The judge was James Sarsfield.

The speed camera dockets were posted in the foyer near the elevators.  There were 45 names listed on the Montgomery County speed camera docket and 8 names listed on the Gaithersburg city speed camera docket.

At 9:00 AM, the bailiff, Dennis Jackson, spoke from the front of the court room and reminded everyone to turn off cell phones, to keep conversations to a minimum, and that reading was not allowed, except for reading of material related to court. 

At 9:05 AM, the clerk said "Please rise", and Judge Sarsfield walked in and sat at the bench.   Judge Sarsfield then said "Please be seated."

Judge Sarsfield made a brief speech explaining that defendants could simply pay the $40 fine before trial if they desired to do so.  He said that defendants who are found guilty at trial will be assessed a fine plus court costs of $22.50.   Sarsfield also reminded defendants that those who pay the fine or are found guilty will not be charged with any "points" on their driving record, not will their car insurance be increased due to a a finding of "guilty".   It sounded like a sales talk to try to get people to plead guilty and avoid a trial.  No one took Judge Sarsfield up on his offer to pay the fine before trial.

Montgomery County sent three representatives to testify against defendants.  The first was speed camera technician K.D. Burriss, a large blond woman in her 50's.  The second was a portly gentleman with a gray beard, R.F. Hebron, also a speed camera technician. Both speed camera technicians were dressed in black uniforms.  The third representative was the manager of the Montgomery County speed camera program, a partly bald gentleman dressed in a suit.

The docket was called in alphabetical order by first name (not last name).

About 1/4 of the defendants did not show up for court.

Of the remaining defendants, all except one were found guilty.  In most cases Judge Sarsfield reduced the fine to $20 plus court costs, so the defendant came out only a $2.50 worse than if he or she had simply paid the citation.   (Of course, that doesn't take into account the cost of parking or the value of the defendant's time or lost wages.)

One of the defendants was a lawyer who specializes in defending traffic citations   Judge Sarsfield recognized him at the beginning of the hearing and said "I'm surprised to find you here."  The lawyer presented his defense rather professionally, and then Judge Sarsfield found him guilty without giving any explanation.   After the case was heard, the lawyer told the MDA observer that Judge Sarsfield finds substantially everyone guilty in speed camera court.

The only person to be found "not guilty" was a lady who brought her passport with visa stamps showing that she was not in the USA when the alleged violation occurred.   Judge Sarsfield did not ask the defendant who was driving her car when the alleged violation occurred. 

Even the most bizarre claims by the county speed technicians were accepted as fact by Judge Sarsfield. In contrast, evidence presented by defendants was uniformly disregarded by Judge Sarsfield.  

The bottom line is that if your case is scheduled to be heard by Judge Sarsfield, it's probably best to have it postponed so that it will be heard by a different judge.