3/8/2013Ohio, Maryland Courts Address Speed Camera Due Process Concerns
Ohio, Maryland county court judges thwart the use of speed cameras.
Judges in Ohio and Maryland are cracking down on the legal shortcuts speed camera vendors frequently take. A Hamilton County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas judge put a stop to it on Thursday with a permanent injunction prohibiting photo radar contractor Optotraffic from issuing $105 photo tickets in the village of Elmwood Place. In Baltimore County, Maryland last month, a circuit court judge ruled that the county has been violating state law by paying Xerox a bounty for every ticket the private company drops in the mail.
"If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system... the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid," state code section 21-809 states.
Judge Susan Souder ruled local jurisdictions cannot evade the ban on contingent fees simply by claiming that Xerox and other firms do not "operate" the cameras.
"The fees paid to ACS Xerox on a per-citation basis violate Transportation Article 21-809(j)(2)," Judge Susan Souder ruled on February 21 ( view ruling, 230k PDF). "The state admits that Baltimore County entered into a contract with ACS Xerox requiring ACS Xerox to 'operate' 22 active speed cameras. The testimony of the witnesses confirmed that ACS Xerox is involved in the operation of the speed cameras."
This is the first ruling to come to that conclusion. Last year, Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, relied on technicalities to throw out a court challenge to contingent fee arrangements, without actually ruling on the merits of the issue.
In Ohio, Judge Robert P. Ruehlman also found the use of automated ticketing machines violated state law. Since last September, Optotraffic has operated a speed camera in a "school zone" twenty-four hours a day and seven days per week. Optotraffic takes a 40 percent cut of every fine issued, generating $362,250 in monthly revenue. Judge Ruehlman called the administrative hearings set up to allow motorists to challenge these fines a "sham."
"The so-called witness for Elmwood Place testifies from a report produced by the company that owns the speed monitoring unit," Judge Ruehlman wrote. "This witness has no personal knowledge of the speeding violation, and, therefore, their testimony is based solely on hearsay."
Judge Ruehlman also called into question the process by which the speed camera's accuracy is established in court.
"The device was not calibrated by a certified police officer, but rather it was calibrated by Optotraffic, the corporation that owns the device," Judge Ruehlman wrote. "Remember, Optotraffic has a financial stake in the game."
The judge found the process sets up situations that directly contradict state law.
"To compound this total disregard for due process, Elmwood Place has another scheme up its sleeve," Judge Ruehlman wrote. "If a motorist tries to convince a hearing officer that he or she was not the driver of the offending vehicle, the ordinance requires that the owner making such a claim provide the name and address of the driver of the vehicle... If the driver was the owner's spouse, the ordinance requires the owner to testify against his or her spouse, in violation of the spousal immunity statute."
A copy of the Ohio decision is available in a 1.3mb PDF file at the source link below.