WASHINGTON — Since 2010, a Maryland driver has been getting parking tickets in the mail from D.C. for different cars with a vanity plate, none of which belong to her.
Amy Mohney, of Burtonsville, is an accountant for the Food and Drug Administration. She owns Maryland license plate CPA-0061. However, the license plate on each of the tickets she’s gotten were for a car with Maryland tags 0061 – – no letters, just four numbers.
Over the last four years, she’d occasionally get tickets in the mail for that license plate. Each listed a different type of car, but each listed 0061 as the license plate. The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, which is responsible for adjudicating all tickets issued in the District of Columbia, made each her responsibility.
“There must be thousands of combinations of three letters and 0061 — why me? I don’t understand why every ticket written to 0061 would get assigned to me. It’s just not right,” says Mohney.
Maryland officials were equally baffled. The Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) told WTOP Ticketbuster that not only did those plates not belong to Mohney — they didn’t belong to anyone. Records indicate the plates haven’t been active for at least 15 years.
D.C. DMV officials knew this in 2000, according to records obtained by WTOP Ticketbuster. The documents show that DMV initiated a “tag request query” on at least eight occasions. The query is a formal computer request between the D.C. DMV and Maryland MVA to determine who owns a car that has an unpaid parking ticket, based on the license plate.
According to the records, each time the D.C. DMV searched Maryland plate 0061, the MVA responded, “ERROR 01: PLATE NOT FOUND.”
“I don’t understand why, all of a sudden, D.C. decided to attach my name to old tickets that I never heard of. Why should I be responsible for tickets from almost 15 years ago that don’t belong to me? It’s ridiculous. I just don’t understand the level of incompetence,” says Mohney.
So how did these tickets end up getting associated with a Montgomery County woman? It begins with a sloppy ticket writer.
For example, the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) wrote a ticket to license plate 0061 on May 1, 2014. According to a picture from the ticket writer, the offending vehicle owns license plate RTR-0061.
“It’s inexcusable. Reading is fundamental. Clearly, the letters are on the plate. How hard is it to read and write an accurate ticket?” asks Mohney.
But the recurring nightmare actually began with an innocent oversight in 2010. Mohney received a parking ticket on her windshield for an expired meter. She fought the ticket because she argued the meter was broken. However, she did not mention that the license plate on her ticket was wrong.
“I didn’t think about it at the time, because I was so focused on the fact that the meter was broken. It was on my windshield, so I didn’t pay attention to making sure the license plate was right. I didn’t bring that up until later, when I took a closer look at the ticket,” says Mohney.
The license plate issue does not appear in the original ruling in 2010 or when the DMV Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board overturned that decision and ruled for Mohney in 2012.
Thus, the DMV says it assumed Mohney owned plates 0061.
“When D.C. DMV followed that process for the tickets issued in 2000, the Maryland MVA responded that they had no record of tag 0061. Therefore, those tickets remained in the system without vehicle owner/address information. In 2010 when Ms. Mohney was issued a ticket, she submitted a request for adjudication. The tag on the ticket is 0061, and her defense was that the meter was broken, not that it was the incorrect tag number,” says DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton.
“As a result, D.C. DMV updated its records with Ms. Mohney’s name and address that she provided in the adjudication request. In doing so, the tickets from 2000 were assigned to her because the tag number from the tickets issued in 2000 is the same tag number as the ticket written in 2010,” adds Newton
She says that since the May 2014 ticket also listed those plates, Mohney became responsible for them too.
But after WTOP Ticketbuster, MVA, DMV and Mohney worked together, the situation was resolved. DPW voided the 2014 ticket and DMV dismissed the 2000 and 2010 tickets. DMV also delinked her name from 0061, so any future errors would not affect Mohney.
Could this happen to you?
This situation is a lesson for anyone, even if you never drive in the District: If you receive a parking ticket, either on your car or in the mail, look closely at the license plate.
Even if something else is wrong with the ticket, an incorrect license plate should always warrant a dismissal, and drivers should always make that an essential part of their defense.
“If it is not their tag number, then they should submit a request for adjudication and provide D.C. DMV with a copy of their vehicle registration,” says Newton.
Some of this problem could be fixed when the Traffic Adjudication Amendment Act takes effect in October. Under the law, the D.C. DMV would be required to ask other states, such as Maryland, for the type of car on an unpaid parking ticket, and automatically dismiss any discrepancy between the official record and the ticket.
For example, two of the tickets assigned to Mohney listed the car as a Nissan. Another two listed it as an Isuzu; a fifth was issued to a Ford Edge. Mohney doesn’t own a Nissan, Isuzu or Ford.
In the future, the D.C. DMV will gather this information from other states and independently notice the discrepancy.
If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Send us your case along with any documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org.