Sunday, March 22, 2015

District Court Changes Citation Language

In response to citizen complaints, the District Court has directed local governments make changes to speed camera citation language pertaining to the situation when one was not the driver.  The new Uniform Citation language also requires the court to state the contact information for the program's "local designee".

"In response to citizen complaints, I have revised these citations to ensure our uniform citations are fully compliant with the letter and intent of the law."  wrote chief judge John P. Morrissey.  "The revisions made reflect those efforts and our ongoing commitment to provide clear, accurate, and understandable information."

Angelita Williams, the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Administrative Office of the Courts, stated in an email that the letter had been sent out to jurisdictions and vendors late last year.  "The Speed monitoring citation, Rev. 12/2104*, has the revised language for the transfer of liability and a new paragraph on the back notice for contact information for the “local designee” described in the letter."

The letter from the court directed the use of a new template "as soon as possible" and stated that it was required for use by January 2015.  That new template removed the words "transfer of liability" and replaced them with the words "SPEED CAMERA--NOT THE DRIVER".

The new language regarding when a motorist isn't the driver replaces language which stated that one was required to identify who was driving.  Maryland's speed camera statute contains no such requirement, and in fact says that it is a defense if one was not driving, if one follows specific steps prior to the court hearing to notify the court in writing.

We previously reported that in December 2013 the Circuit Court ruled that it was a defense if one was not the driver.  The case in question was State of Maryland vs Ely, which was argued in circuit court "pro se" by a Member of the Maryland Drivers Alliance who had received a Montgomery County speed camera citation when he was not driving.  In his defense, Ely noted that state law had no requirement for a ticket recipient to identify who was driver, only to provide "corroborating evidence" to the court in advance that one was not driving..

Subsequently, district court judges grudgingly accepted this defense in some district court cases.  The language on the backs of citations implied that one needed to "transfer" liability, and made no mention that there was an option to not name the driver.

However implementing the procedure was.  In order to implement the defense under Maryland Law, one needs to follow very specific steps to notify the court in advance, sending a sworn statement certified mail return receipt.  One motorist reported to the Maryland Drivers Alliance that he had attempted to implement the defense, but the judge in that case refused to accept it because the court didn't have a copy of the letter in their file, even though the motorist had a certified mail receipt.

The chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance asked the Chief Judge of the Court to reconsider speed monitoring system citation language because it provided no instructions on how to implement the defense listed under the statute, and instead referred only to the transfer option.  In that complaint to the court, we laid out the problems with the prior citation language:
In the case of "Baker vs Montgomery County" it was asserted that paying a speed monitoring citation is an “admission of speeding” (to use the words of the Court of Appeals).  This implies it is more than merely an admission of "liability" in the sense of an acknowledgment that one is the registered owner, but rather an acknowledgment that one did commit the violation.  Requiring a person to prove someone else guilty in order to avoid "admitting guilt" would violate the core principal of our justice system by decisively shifting the burden of proof to the accused.[...] 
Contesting a citation in district court under 21-809(f)(1)(ii) requires a motorist to take a very specific action within a specific amount of time.  It is not merely a question of requesting a hearing.  You need to mail the court a sworn statement and exculpatory evidence in advance, and you must do so in a very specific way.   If a person assumes that “Transfer of Liability” is an accurate and complete interpretation of the statute because it has been presented that way, but they are unable to identify the driver, then they lose the opportunity to contest the citation under 21-809(f)(1)(ii).[...] 
There is a legitimate legal reason why this would be.  A person cannot testify to facts which they do not have first hand knowledge of, let alone be compelled to do so, because “hearsay” is not permitted under Maryland rules.  A defendant who wishes to give hearsay evidence in their own defense in court would likely be told by the judge that they may not. 
A requirement to incriminate another person in order to exonerate oneself may in some cases also infringe on legally recognized privileges against being compelled to provide testimony.  This would notably include "spousal privilege", which is considered important enough that civil liberties organizations have gone to court in the past to defend it.   If the interest in prosecuting most criminal violations does not justify an exception to spousal privilege, then prosecuting traffic citations cannot present enough public interest to justify an exception to a well established legal privilege. 
[...]If approval for the current Uniform Citation format was given, it must have been based on input from agencies which issue the tickets without hearing arguments or input from anyone more objective.  Advocates for motorists had no means to present the District Court with counter arguments or concerns until now. 
A number of other motorists wrote to the Chief Judge as well, but the court initially responded to some of those individuals in October of 2014 that the court would not change the citation language.  The court's letter in November appears to represent a shift in that position.

The new template also adds contact information for an agency's "local designee" where an individual can theoretically send a complaint or concern.  Many local governments had either buried the contact information for this individual deep in their websites where the information would be unlikely to be found, or did not publish such contact information at all.  Such a position would be rendered meaningless if the public had no way of knowing how to send a complaint and this would have permitted an agency to claim they had received no complaints about their program at all.