By James Baxter, NMA President
There’s a random pattern around the country where state and local courts are systematically making it harder and more expensive for ticket recipients to fight traffic tickets.
This is an admission by the judiciary and state and local governments that there is growing public resistance to being ripped off via bad laws, unethical enforcement, and revenue hungry courts.
Defendants are growing in numbers, they are coming to court better prepared to defend themselves, the police are being found lacking in knowledge and compliance with mandated procedures, ignorant arbitrary judges are being exposed, and pro-se defendants are mucking up the good “ole” boy plea bargaining system and demanding trials.
This could lead to the collapse of the whole money grubbing system that has evolved around the traffic ticket industry.
To protect itself, the “system” is fighting back. Here are a few of its strategies being implemented around the country:
1) The State of Massachusetts passed a law requiring traffic ticket defendants to pay $25 to contest a ticket; non-refundable.
To appeal a case to a more legitimate court requires payment of $50, again; non-refundable. Win, lose, or draw the court gets $75 — regardless of the merit of the ticket. What an incredible incentive for the police to write bogus tickets by the thousands! Why not, every ticket will generate at least $25 to $75, regardless of the outcome.
2) Some of the ticket camera operations run their own court systems.
There is no thought given to the obvious conflict of interest, plus requiring pre-payment of the fine and additional fees to get a one sided hearing. Even when solid evidence is provided that shows the defendant is innocent, the evidence is ignored and the victim’s money is kept.
3) If defendants learn of a law that requires certain procedures be implemented before enforcement activities can commence, the law is changed or eliminated.
For example, in California, the speed trap law required traffic engineering studies be done every five years, and the speed limit was to be set according to the results of the study. Many communities sloughed off on the engineering studies and as a result speeding tickets had to be dismissed. The State Legislature addressed this by extending the time period between studies from once every five years to once every ten years.
4) In Marion County, Indiana the local court is telling defendants that if they challenge their ticket in court they will be assessed additional fines up to $2500!
Let’s see, I can pay my $150 bogus ticket or I can challenge it in court and be on the hook for ten times, or more, than the cost of the original ticket. What’s the wisest thing to do? That would be a rhetorical question.
5) Under the guise of classifying traffic tickets as civil violations, state and local units of government strip defendants of the right to discovery, jury trials, public defenders and the requirement that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The testimony of police officers is openly given more credibility than that of defendants, supposedly because they have no direct or financial interest in the outcome—other than bonuses, retirement benefits, preferential work schedules, promotions, and income-pumping overtime; all rewards for being a “producer.”
The catch-22 is that to challenge this cascade of lost due process rights takes us right back to the same court system that is bent on protecting its prerogatives and its cash flow, along with reducing its work load.
Here’s an idea; lets eliminate all the arbitrary, irrational, pre-emptive, and just plain stupid traffic laws seemingly intended to make every driver in America a criminal. That will kill the cash flow, but it will also cut back on the courts’ work load.
The trade-off is less money, but more time on the golf course. That can’t be too bad a deal.