Inside the court: Challenging speed camera tickets

Ari Ashe,

HYATTSVILLE, Md. – Every year, hundreds of thousands of Marylanders receive speed camera tickets in the mail and face a choice: Pay the ticket or go to court.

In Prince George’s County, drivers who choose to fight their speed camera ticket end up at District Court in Hyattsville. But whether they are successful or end up paying a fine and court costs largely depends on the judge.

On Wednesday, about two dozen people showed up at 8:45 a.m. to contest their tickets. They faced Judge Thomas J. Love, who according to AAA Mid-Atlantic is one of the few judges who give some drivers a fair shake.

Love started off with an olive branch. Anyone who pleaded guilty with an explanation saw their ticket reduced from $40 to $2, plus court costs.

About half of the people took the deal, grabbed their papers and left.

Others like Brian Brophy from Baltimore went to trial, which lasted less than five minutes. Love found Brophy guilty and ordered him to pay $40, plus $22.50 in court costs.

“I should’ve just saved my time and pleaded guilty with an explanation,” says Brophy. “It was unfair. Completely one-sided. Very frustrating.”

Paul Williams got his ticket on Good Luck Road in College Park and also lost his case.

“The trial is weighted against you. If the police officer says it’s calibrated properly, then that’s enough preponderance of the evidence for the judge. He didn’t show me any evidence it was calibrated correctly,” says Williams.

But Mike King, from the Eastern Shore, says he’s okay losing his case.

“The court was fair. They’re efficient and I think the officer was professional. I thought the evidence showed I was not guilty, but the judge thought differently. But the justice system works,” says King.

Not everyone lost.

Six tickets from Glenarden and New Carrollton were dismissed because no police officer showed up.

Three other drivers won their cases against police, including Chancelynn Walker of Silver Spring.

She received two tickets on Metzerott Road, one from College Park Police, one from Prince George’s County Police.

Judge Love threw out her ticket when she said the camera wasn’t placed closed enough to a school zone, as required under Maryland law.

“I guess I let life get in the way of contesting the tickets. So if I’m not guilty from now on, I will contest it, rather than just paying it,” says Walker.

She says the process was “fair, at least today.” But she will reserve final judgment until her second ticket is adjudicated.

Anthony McCloud of Clinton was one of two people whose tickets were dismissed because the speed camera misread the license plate.

“Somebody just made an honest mistake. They were fair about it. I am happy the judge ruled in my favor. He was fair to everybody,” says McCloud.

Prince George’s County Police Major Robert Liberati says only about 10 percent of speed camera tickets end up in court, and one percent of those tickets are dismissed.

In Montgomery County, about 0.3 percent of speed camera violators go to court, with about one percent of those tickets dismissed.

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