Carmel, Indiana passed a law telling drivers to pay traffic fines to the city instead of the state.
What Carmel did was pass an ordinance with a section saying (insert state vehicle code here). That made every state vehicle code violation a violation of city ordinance as well, with fines payable to the city.
In some states cities are allowed to do that, but not in Indiana. Municipal ordinances may not simply parrot state law. They must cover separate ground where state law does not meet local needs.
The court said the ordinance is invalid and charges under that code section must be dismissed.
As often happens, the revelation was followed by a class action suit. Most of those fail or only benefit lawyers. New Jersey drivers illegally ticketed by red light cameras could get 10 cents on the dollar. Some Florida drivers did better and got 20% back.
This is a common pattern. Cities want to redirect fine revenue from the state.
The legal fight over red light cameras in Missouri was over a similar issue: can cities define offenses that look like state vehicle code offenses but don’t have license points? Cities didn’t want bad drivers to lose their licenses. They only wanted money.
State courts said no, camera enforcement is clearly targeting moving violations already defined by state law. Camera tickets have to be treated like any others, and license points give drivers incentive to fight.
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority also downgraded a state law to get more revenue. State law makes “operating to endanger” a crime. But the Turnpike doesn’t get revenue from crimes, it gets revenue from regulation violations. On the Turnpike reckless driving is a $50 fine. (700 CMR 7.08(5) and 7.08(6)(b).)
In these cases state law still exists, but police officers’ bosses want them to ignore it. Police can write a safety violation under state law, or a revenue violation under local law.
Which kind is your ticket?
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