Contesting Speed Camera Tickets FAQ

The following applies to Maryland speed camera citations. The situation, laws, and points of contact will be different in other states and DC.

If you receive a speed camera citation, you have a right to request a court hearing.   

Challenging an unjust citation is your  civic duty.  
The truth is, fighting citations in court is difficult, time consuming, and almost everyone chooses to pay the $40 rather than spend a day in court. Plus the odds will be seriously stacked against you at District Court "Speed Camera Day" where they judge's purpose is to hand out assembly line "Guilty" verdicts NOT to provide due process or justice.  If the system was fair, we wouldn't have needed to create this website in the first placeHowever, there is NO PENALTY for requesting a hearing and then paying the fine later if you are unable to build a caseIf you pay the fine you have surrendered up front and handed a gift to the photo enforcement companies.   The Maryland High Court has stated that paying a citation is an admission of speeding.  Doing anything other than requesting a hearing is admitting guilt, waives any right you might have to dispute the alleged violation in the future, and frees the issuing jurisdiction of any obligation to prove the case against you.  

You should ALWAYS fight a ticket if you believe it was issued in error or the driver was really not speeding.  Being a 'submitizen' and paying an unjust citation does not make you a 'good citizen' because it rewards and/or corruption and will only make matters worse.  By asserting your rights and vigorously defending yourself, you are denying them the ability to profit from you... they will not profit from your ticket even if you lose.

Learn More about how to fight tickets on our Ticket Fighting FAQ Page

If the ticket you received was the result of a blatant error, for example if it is not your car in the photo, one of the first things you could try is to contact the police department issuing the citation. If you write to the city/county police and/or mayor and council, town administrator of the jurisdiction issuing such a ticket and whatever supporting evidence is appropriate, sometimes you can get a ticket dismissed without a hearing.  However, IN THE CASE OF A BLATANT ERROR Please Report Erroneous Citations to us or bcc us correspondence about such errors at :   
You are NOT doing the public a favor by allowing them to QUIETLY resolve egregious errors.  The obligation is on THEM to ensure innocent motorists don't get tickets.  Most motorists pay tickets without question, so if YOU got an erroneous ticket there may be dozens of other motorists who got tickets due to similar errors and just paid! Don't reward incompetence by letting them quietly sweep problems under the rug just for the few motorists who complained!  

 Specific reasons why you might wish to fight a ticket include when:
  • There were other vehicles in the citation images, meaning the violation may have been improperly assigned to you
  •  You were not driving the vehicle.  If this was the case, there is a specific defense you can try which we describe here.
  • Signs in the area were obstructed, missing, or non standard
  • Multiple tickets were received in a short period of time
  • You didn’t receive the citation in a timely manner (2 weeks for Maryland residents, 30 days for out of state drivers is the legal requirement. Note: look at the postmarks and SAVE THE ENVELOPE it came in)
  • You believe proper procedures were not followed
  • The ticket was issued by one of the jurisdictions which as been a particularly bad actor, such as Forest Heights, or where there has been a history of errors.
  • You really really want to 
If you choose to challenge a Speed Camera citation in court, you should know:

a) If you are seriously challenging a citation, you should plead NOT GUILTY.  The court, the county, and its contractor may tell you a variety of lies or threats to try to persuade you to plea 'Guilty with Explanation'.  'Guilty with Explanation' means 'Guilty'.  All it does is waive your right to due proceeds and *guarantee* you will be found guilty and have to pay a fine plus court costs.  I cannot believe how many people go to 'speed camera day', plead 'guilty with explanation', tell the judge that they don't think speed cameras are fair, and then have to pay a fine plus court costs.  Fighting a citation means fighting to win.  Judges do not set public policy or decide where cameras are placed so 'venting' to them accomplishes nothing, and they do expect defendants to follow courtroom rules.  If your purpose  for being there is to make a complaint about cameras in general please see items 2, 3, and 4 above for the proper places to do that.  It's actually quite maddening to those of us running  this site to see people wasting their own time by going to court and then just pleading guilty, no matter what the judge says DON'T DO IT.

The only exception to this is if you are fighting 3 or more received in a very short period of time before the first ticket arrived in the mail (that is fairly common if a new camera goes up, especially in those cases where speed limits were lowered or cameras placed right near speed transition zones).   Most judges will force you to pay the first ticket full price and reduce or dismiss all the others, which will reduce the total amount you need to pay.  If you weren't the driver or don't know who was driving for all of the tickets try to support that.

b) If you go to court, they cannot increase the fines or place "points" on your driving record. They *can* charge you a maximum additional $22.50 in court costs.  They *should not* do so if you are found not guilty.  Most people get reduced fines plus court costs and end up breaking even.

c) When the speed camera law was written, it was written to lower the standard of justice from "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" to "a preponderance of the evidence". This means that you will need to spend some time to come up with a credible argument to support your case.  Basically in Maryland the lawmakers who approved speed cameras believe drivers should have none of the legal rights which murderers, rapists, and child molesters are entitled to.

d) Some drivers have been successful in proving errors by cameras using time-distance calculations.  This has been particularly true of cameras run by several towns in Prince George's county, including Forest Heights.  You need to know the time interval between the frames, then overlay the images to obtain an estimate of the distance traveled, using the length of your car for comparison.  The formula you need to use is:
Feet Traveled =  (MilePerHour * (5280 ft/Mile) / (3600 s/hr))  * photo_interval_in_seconds
or alternately
MilePerHour = Feet Traveled  * (3600 s/hr) / (photo_interval_in_seconds * 5280 ft/Mile)

The owner of a business in Forest Height has created a video describing how to create a composite image which can be used to challenge tickets issued by Forest Heights and other towns using Optotraffic cameras.

If the car was not fully in frame in the first (closer) image you should site this as additional evidence that the car had not traveled the expected distance in the period of time before the first photo was taken, meaning it .  If asked to respond that you merely slowed down after the speed measurement or that your brakes were on, you should respond that the time before the first photo is take is very short, less than a second, and that you could not have decelerated in that time.  If the prosecution argues that the timestamps are not exact, then you should state that a law enforcement device is supposed to be a piece of precision equipment, and that the timestamps are part of the chain of evidence.  There is an expectation that the information recorded on the citations is accurate and if that is the case then the evidence produced by the machine should not be considered proof of guilt, and that the burden for providing verifiable proof is supposed to be on the accuser.  

Also if the camera was close to a speed transition zone (a drop in the speed limit) you can additionally point out that even if claim that you had merely braked were true (although you do not accept that to be the case), it would show that you were in fact in the process of slowing down to comply with the reduced speed limit and that exceeding the speed limit for 1 second after the start of a reduced speed zone is not what rational people consider to be 'speeding', and that you should still be found not guilty in that case. 

In some cases, citations are issued with timestamps that are only accurate to within 1 second.  This will give an interval of either 1 second or 0 seconds, and it is NOT the actual photo interval.  In this case it was rounded off, perhaps deliberately in order to prevent calculations like the ones above. If you believe you were not speeding and cannot obtain the "real" photo interval upon request (prior to your hearing!) you should argue that the timestamp was not accurate enough for verification purposes and as such the evidence against you should be inadmissible because it cannot be verified.  (some defendants have been successful with this approach, but others were not).

e) The accused has a right to challenge the validity of the evidence. There are specific conditions called out in Transportation Article 21-809 regarding maintenance, calibration, and record keeping for the machines which the state is required to meet.

f) The law states that you need notify the court *20 days before the trial* if you want to have the "operator" appear in court. This is right after the paragraph which says that the operator is not *required* to go to court. However, if you request the operator be present and they do not send the operator, you should ask the judge to dismiss the case on that basis.  Note that local governments have been trying to deny that they need to present the operator upon request , and have had some success in stripping YOU of this important right.  Do not accept it.  If you wish to question the operator you should be prepared to a) document that you sent your request b) present an argument that the state has not met the burden of proof if they do not present the operator upon request (contact us for some suggestions). 

A maddening thing about many speed camera cases is that even if you request the 'Operator' of the camera to appear, the judge might not permit you to question the actual operator of the device.  This is something which should not be allowed, but the average person is not skilled enough in law to do anything about it.  We recommend that anyone who requests the operator appear and is denied the opportunity to do so report it to us, since we wish to document this particular unconstitutional abuse by the system.

G) How strictly judges follow rules of evidence varies, but it is often the case that things you might want to admit as evidence will NOT be permitted.  You may find it infuriating to observe this and learn that the prosecution can admit their evidence without authentication, but that you cannot do the same. Truthfully, if you are not an attorney, have no experience with court, and do not know the Maryland Rules then asking you to understand the 'mechanics' of a courtroom can be like asking an average person off the street to fly an F-16 with no training.  Of course you will no doubt conclude that hiring an attorney or expert witnesses for a single ticket is economically unfeasible.

However you can research Maryland law and courtroom rules in advance to be as prepared as possible.   Maryland Rules for court can be found online HERE.  Click on the link for "Maryland Rules".  Of interest, you should examine the rules of evidence (Title 5) to research how to include your own evidence, or how to object to the state's.  In most cases there will be no prosecuting attorney present, and it is possible the prosecution will not be prepared to answer individuals who have prepared specific, in-depth legal objections.  

Note that when we say there is no prosecuting attorney present, this essentially means the judge is acting as prosecutor (ie it will be the judge, not the prosecution, who objects to your motions), which should not be how the system works and makes it so the judge cannot be an unbiased arbitrator, but there's nothing you can do about it.  You know all that stuff you learned about the legal system from watching TV or in high school civics?  Well none of that applies in speed camera cases.  You are not innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  You were already guilty when you walked into the room, and you need to convince the judge to the contrary.

The "prosecution" will most likely present a single witness... an officer or technician, who will read a prepared statement and offer into evidence the daily logs, calibration certificates, and photos.  If you want to object to this prosecution's evidence, you will likely need to prepare your argument in advance, based on Maryland Rules, and raise the objection at the time he presents this evidence.  (Note, if the prosecution is reading a prepared statement, Title 5, chapter 600, rule 5-612 says that you have a right to examine :any "writing or other item" which a witness uses to "refresh memory" if you believe they are reading some document or notes which they are not revealing the full content of).

You can also use the Maryland rules to enter your own evidence, but be prepared to answer claims that  your evidence are "hearsay".  The judge may tell you that you cannot present an argument without an "expert witness" or present evidence without it being authenticated.  Title 3 Chapter 400 describes procedures for discovery in district court.

We suggest consulting the Maryland Law Library as a resource for more in depth information.

H) You have a right to request other data relevant to your defense (from the local government issuing the citation and/or the state highway administration). You will need to do this well in advance of your trial because it may take weeks to get the information you need. Examples of documents you might want to ask for may include :
- contract documents between the local government and their speed camera contractor
- technical specifications of the speed camera
- the annual calibration certificates for the camera along with the actual test procedure performed for the calibration

- documents showing the credentials of the "independent calibration lab" which issued the annual calibration certificates
- "daily setup logs" for the camera issuing the citation

- timecards for the operator signing the daily setup logs (to confirm they were working the day they 'signed' the logs, sometimes they were not.
- Maintenance and/or Radar Service Logs for the day of, before, and after citation date
- the
local law/ordinance which authorized the use of speed cameras and approved the camera contract
- The permit to use speed cameras on the road from the SHA or county which maintains the road, and the complete application for this permit

- work orders for the addition of speed limit, 'photo enforced' or 'school zone' signs (to determine if, when, and where they were added).

Be aware that not all of the above records pertain to all types of cameras or all locations, it will require some research on your part.  If they do not immediately turn over this information willingly, you should cite the Maryland Public Information Act, which gives you the right to have access to most public records from state and local governments. If you invoke the PIA:
- You are NOT obligated to provide the reason why you need these records.
- It is a violation of state law for them NOT to provide the records in question within 30 days or a valid reason why the records cannot be released (only a few reasons are considered valid).
- If they fail to provide the requested documents or state that they will charge you an excessive fee for doing so, request that response in writing and use their refusal/unreasonable demand as part of your defense (and we'd like to know about it too!)

I) EVEN IF YOU LOSE YOU WIN. The minute you decide to vigorously defend yourself, the government stops making money off your ticket and starts losing money. The more questions you ask before your hearing, the more true this will be. We also get much of our information from people who are fighting tickets, and when the truth about violations of the law by authorities or camera companies gets out it can cost them more in terms of PR than thousands of tickets are worth.

Disclaimer: the content of this website and any referenced documents should not be treated as legal advice or as a substitute for legal counsel.