Columbus, Ohio: Innocent Or Not, You’re Paying Us

If you’ve read any of our articles in the past, you know that red light ticket cameras have a way of helping city council members forget about basic due process rights.

This story from 10TV News in Ohio shows that Columbus, Ohio’s program is one of the worst in that respect:

According to Columbus policy, a driver has to pay $95 to have a hearing.  If the driver does not pay, he or she loses.  If he or she pays late, the payment rises to $120 and the driver could wind up at collections. […]

10 Investigates wanted to know how often the policy catches innocent drivers and forces them to pay just to get a hearing.  We found plenty of cases.

In 2009, we found 60 cases.  There were 71 cases the previous year.  That is about 14 percent of the people who contest their tickets just are not guilty.

10 Investigates tracked down several of them and brought them to our studios.

“I feel like its highway robbery,” said Janice Henry, who was found not guilty.  “It’s just not fair.”

Dorothy Stills said that she had to use her child support credit card to prove that she was innocent.  She said that she had no other money.

“It’s totally unfair,” Stills said.  “It’s unfair to anyone, even if you’ve got a good paying job.”

This isn’t the end of the story. It actually gets worse:

Even more insulting, some drivers said, is what happens after you prove you’re innocent.  The city keeps your money for at least 60 to 90 days, Aker reported.

“I think the City of Columbus should be ashamed of itself,” said Joshua Dressler, a nationally renowned law professor, who has authored volumes of articles and textbooks on criminal law.

According to Dressler, the system violates a fundamental concept of American justice.

“This system turns everything on its head,” Dressler said.  “It basically requires a citizen to prove himself or herself innocent of the infraction and requires them to effectively pay the penalty just to get themselves into court.”

This exchange with the City Council President gives some insight into how the city justified its ticket camera program:

Columbus City Council President Mike Mentel was asked why he sponsored a law that required the upfront payments.

“We are assuring people show up (to court),” Mentel said.  “If they have the adequate evidence, then the money will be returned to them.”

Early on, Mentel seemed to think anyone who got a ticket must be guilty.

“If you don’t want to face this problem at all, don’t run a red light,” Mentel said.

After Aker told Mentel of cases like Stills, Mentel seemed to have a change of heart.

“Let’s get it done,” Mentel said.  “Let’s not have a debate and talk about it.  Let’s get it corrected.  Let’s help this lady.  Let’s help other people in her circumstance.”

Like most cities with ticket camera programs, the local politicians were too blinded by the potential revenue to see the terrible situation they’ve created for drivers in their city. It’s a story we’re seeing far too often. However, thanks to investigations like this one, more and more people are starting to see ticket cameras for what they really are: a scam.

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