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Md. bills provide punishments for bogus tickets

Wednesday - 3/6/2013, 1:20pm  ET

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Many drivers hate speed cameras, especially after an investigation last year found bogus tickets being issued in Baltimore city.

Now, two bills being considered in the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee would attempt to punish jurisdictions in similar situations.

Under a bill from Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore, jurisdictions would be fined $1,000 for each bogus ticket.

"That doesn't mean (it applies) when the judge says, 'I'm not sure, not guilty.' No, it's obviously when it falls through the cracks," Cardin says.

He says there should be a distinction between honest mistakes and negligent mistakes on tickets that should have been caught and never mailed out.

For example, if a court throws out a ticket because the camera mistook an 8 for a B, the fine wouldn't apply.

"They should be doing all they can to make sure that no tickets that are obviously wrongly issued ever get out," says Cardin.

Supporters like Ron Ely from the Maryland Drivers Alliance point out that while he would like to see all speed cameras eliminated, Cardin's bill would do an effective job at reforming the program.

"I don't expect that many $1,000 penalties would be handed out. I think it'll act as a deterrent," Ely says.

Ely hopes the prospect of a fine would entice police in Montgomery and Prince George's counties to make absolutely certain that bogus tickets are caught before they reach the driver.

Others like attorney Kevin Best, who represents the Town of Forest Heights, disagree with Cardin's approach.

"It's just a band-aid remedy. There are other remedies available to the populus if they have a problem with the speed camera program. It's called a class-action lawsuit," Best says.

Cardin points out that vendors expect bogus tickets to get through the cracks once every 500,000 tickets and that if true, his fine would be a small penalty.

His bill would also require police to give a 30-day warning period for each new camera that goes up, rather than one 30-day warning period for the first camera installed.

Another bill from Delegate Carolyn Howard, D-Prince George's County, would force police to pay $40 restitution to drivers when a speed-camera ticket is thrown out.

"There are a very small number of people who actually win in court, but they are the ones that are most interested in fixing the system. I think this measure would go a long way toward making the system a better one," says federal Administrative Law Judge Steven A. Glazer.

He points to Montgomery County where less than 0.5 percent of all speed camera tickets taken to court have been overturned.

"A judge can find anybody not guilty because they had a medical emergency, or had to go to the bathroom, so it's hard to define what is erroneous," says Capt. Thomas Didone, who runs the Montgomery County program, while testifying on another speed camera bill.

Maj. Robert Liberati from Prince George's County told lawmakers that sometimes judges drop tickets because the driver is broke, which has nothing to do with the ticket itself.

However, Liberati acknowledges that only 1 percent of their tickets are tossed out.

"I have problem supporting restitution. There are steps set up to allow people who have questions about a speed camera violation to contact me. I'll review the violation and if I feel it's in error, it'll be corrected," says First Sgt. Jay Robinson of Maryland State Police.

"You get a ticket, you're found not guilty, you're happy, you walk out the door and don't have to pay court costs. If we pass this bill, we open a can of worms, and where does it stop? I don't think we should be paying restitution," says Jacqueline Goodall, mayor of Forest Heights.

Cardin's and Howard's bills could be merged with another bill from delegates James Malone, D-Baltimore County, and Herb McMillian, R-Anne Arundel County, that simply clarifies the existing speed camera laws.

This story has been modified to clarify that Cardin's bill and Howard's bill could be merged into other legislation.

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