A divided three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit yesterday upheld the imposition of automated tickets on individuals who may or may not have committed any crime. The judges ruled on a case that began when Kelly Mendenhall received a ticket in the mail for allegedly speeding in Akron, Ohio in December 2005. Although the ticket against her was dismissed, her husband, Warner, fought the legitimacy of the Akron ordinance all the way to the state supreme court which, unlike the high courts in Minnesota and Missouri, approved of speed camera use (view decision).
The Sixth Circuit panel briefly decided that the automated enforcement fine was civil in nature and therefore that full due process protections did not apply. The judges decided to keep the decision unpublished because it agreed with the lower court opinion on the subject and was not interested in rehashing the same argument.
“We find that the district court properly applied the law and ably articulated the reasons supporting the conclusion that this enforcement scheme is civil in nature,” Judge Ralph B. Guy, Jr wrote. “We… reject plaintiff’s assertion that it violates due process to impose civil penalties for speeding violations irrespective of whether the owner was, in fact, driving the vehicle when the violation was recorded.”
Judge Eric L. Clay disagreed, writing that he would have invalidated the speed camera ordinance in Akron because it does not present the opportunity for a fair hearing to the innocent.
“Akron’s civil speed enforcement scheme violates due process by failing to provide vehicle owners with an opportunity to avoid liability by proving that they did not commit the infraction,” Clay wrote. “While the owner may request an administrative hearing at which she can present witnesses, documents, or other evidence relating to the issue of liability, the ordinance does not indicate that proof that the owner was not in fact driving the vehicle at the time of the violation can provide a basis for avoiding liability at the administrative hearing.”
Clay pointed out that the city could easily have included a provision to allow an owner to offer evidence that would show someone else had been driving. The city, however, only cares that someone pays the ticket, not whether the recipient is guilty or not.
“Akron does not provide an owner with a mechanism to avoid an erroneous deprivation of her property interest by proving that she was not driving at the time the violation occurred,” Clay wrote. “Rather, Akron holds a driver liable regardless of whether she was the person who committed the act in question.”
A copy of the decision is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.