A number of local jurisdictions in California have quietly turned to administrative citations for speeding tickets as a means of circumventing state law. The legislature had set down a very specific set of procedures for issuing and adjudicating traffic violations, including a split of the revenue for each ticket between the state, county, municipality and the court system. Cities like Newman now believe they can cut the state government out of the process.
Under new procedures adopted in October, $150 speeding tickets will be issued under a city ordinance governing disobedience to a speed limit sign and not the California Vehicle Code. This means the citations will not carry license points since they will not go through the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Newman claimed that this created a “win-win” situation for motorists and the city.
“The advantages of administrative citations for traffic violations include: lower fines for violators, more convenient for our residents by not having to travel to Modesto and high probability of increased revenue for the city (because the state and county do not get a portion of administrative fines like they do for traditional traffic fines),” Newman Police Department Chief Adam McGill wrote in a September 8 memo to the city council.
Newman had been following the lead of Riverbank which adopted the same system on May 11. Alameda County turned to civil ticketing on July 21. The city of Corona even examined the possibility of issuing red light camera tickets under the same procedure but it backed away from the idea over legal concerns.
Those concerns are substantial. The highwayrobbery.net website, which covers California photo enforcement issues, pointed to the 1994 decision Morehart v. County of Santa Barbara, in which the California Court of Appeal expressly prohibited local jurisdictions from using ordinances to escape the requirements of state law.
“Local legislation in conflict with general law is void,” the court ruled. “Conflicts exist if the ordinance duplicates, contradicts, or enters an area fully occupied by general [state] law, either expressly or by legislative implication.”
Another concern is that the procedure could violate the equal protection clause of the state constitution because the administrative procedures give police officers the ability to treat different classes of drivers with greater or lesser punishments.
“Not all traffic violators will receive administrative citations,” McGill wrote. “Most will continue to receive traditional traffic citations with infraction violations being heard in traffic court.”
Those who receive an administrative citation have lesser due process protection as any challenge is heard by an “administrative hearing” instead of a court of law. Speeding tickets in Newman rise to $300 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.