By on November 22, 2011

Prince George’s County, Maryland judges are tired of complaints that photo enforcement citations are inaccurate or otherwise invalid. To speed proceedings on “speed camera day” when automated citation cases are heard, at least one judge is cautioning motorists not to bother attempting to prove their innocence, regardless of the merit of their argument.

“This is a speed camera violation session,” District Judge Jean S. Baron said on November 9. “The only defense the court is going to accept is if you were not the driver of the vehicle and you have the name and the address of the person who was driving and you present that to the court under oath, I will accept that as a defense. Please don’t tell me that you know you couldn’t have been going that fast or there’s something wrong with the equipment.”

Will Foreman, owner of Eastover Auto Supply, has infuriated local prosecutors by offering a mathematical proof that his delivery vehicles were incorrectly accused of speeding. He used the photographs taken by the speed camera vendor Optotraffic to create a time-distance calculation showing his vehicles could not possibly have traveled at the velocity alleged. To counter this, Optotraffic press spokesman Mickey E. Shepherd, who is not a scientist, would present evidence at trial that the camera equipment verifies its own accuracy.

“There’s someone here from the jurisdiction who testifies that the equipment was calibrated and validated — or it is self-calibrating — then I’m not going to be able to accept that as a defense,” Judge Baron said. “Keep that in mind. Now if you want to accept responsibility and enter a guilty plea, I will take that into consideration and in all probability I will give you a probation before judgment and greatly reduce the fine. Now that’s up to you” (listen to the judge’s full statement).

Foreman’s concern about camera accuracy is echoed in correspondence between the town of Cheverly and Optotraffic. Cheverly this month stopped letting Optotraffic issue photo tickets and switched to Brekford, an upstart rival to the established players American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia.

“Not only are the cameras still not functioning properly, they now are producing violations for invisible vehicles going 76 miles per hour and bicycles going 38 and 57 miles per hour and now violations with just a part of a vehicle in only one photo,” Town Administrator David Warrington wrote in a July 26 letter to Optotraffic. “Finally, we continue to get false speed readings for vehicles that have an irregular size such as buses and trucks with ladder racks. Rather than have meeting to have Mickey tell us ‘that it’s technical’ we would like you to have an explanation for the equipment problems provided to us in writing. I look forward to hearing from you in the next ten days.”

On September 23, Judge Gerard F. Devlin prohibited Foreman from introducing the letter as evidence. Judge Devlin then took matters a step further by jailing James Bradford, 71, for contempt for saying “I was not speeding” after Devlin told him to stop repeating an argument he rejected (listen to the exchange in court).


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31 Comments on “Maryland: Innocence Not a Defense to Speed Camera Citation...”

  • avatar

    Just one of the myriad reasons to stay the hell out of PG county.

    • 0 avatar

      I stay out of the People’s Republic of Maryland in general. The state seems to be trying to outdo San Francisco in excessive and repressive government.

    • 0 avatar

      Step back and ask yourself why this is being done at all.

      Is it for safety purposes?
      If I am not mistaken, the original intention of this law enforcement is for the purpose of traffic safety.

      OK – someone within law enforcement has ticketed you for not driving safely as defined by the community and you need to go to court.

      Was there an officer present? No?
      What proof is there that you broke the law? A camera?

      OK – Normally, we should be able to request proof that getting a traffic ticket under these circumstances is foolproof. In this case, we are not able to do that because the traffic judge has decided that they are disinterested in hearing any challenges to the accuracy of the camera for the ticket you had been issued.

      That is wrong. The judge is not allowing for a citizen’s rights to request proof of their guilt. The judge is not allowing to hear if the extenuating circumstances of the case warrant the fine. The judge is not taking into consideration the citizen’s history.

      What this juridiction and judge is doing is forcing law abiding citizens into admitting guilt and paying a fine for the purpose of generating cash for the jurisdiction and it’s salaried employees, which include the judge.

      This is the kind of experience that is driving good honest citizens into literally hating their governments. The absolute shallowness of the charges, the kangaroo-court procedures inflicted on citizens caught by this traffic camera, and the means taken by this community to inflict inconveniences and technicalities upon it’s own citizens is far more offensive than any community benefits accrued through any additional traffic safety.

      This kind of stupidity weakens the legal system and pulls itself down when situations arise where a credible court system is needed to implement fair laws upon real criminals. It makes a game of driving. It mocks the rule of law.

      This kind of legal enforcement is worse than no legal enforcement, because eventually no one feels that they are treated respectfully within their inalienable rights as recognized.

      When an 80 year old senior citizen is hassled into admitting guilt within our court systems in this manner, we are doing something incredibly harmful to our community.

      • 0 avatar

        To play devil’s advocate, they’ve already applied this logic to drug sniffing dogs before they did to speed cameras. In our court system, dogs are considered to be infallible and perfectly unbiased. Neither are even remotely true and nevermind the fact that it’s impossible to distinguish between when a dog smells residue of drugs that were but are no longer there; when a dog just gets it wrong; And when the handler commits an act of fraud. Dogs are infallible. Cameras are infallible. And you are denied your 6th amendment right to face your accuser and question the accuracy of said dog/camera.

    • 0 avatar

      justice is murky in County Prince George. I knew some great cops there, but growing up I seem to recall it had the highest per-capita amount of police-shooting-unarmed-suspects in the country. More recently was the newsmaking botched SWAT invasion (and dog murder) of a municipal mayor over false information. When I was a kid, an elderly pedestrian was run over by an off-duty who sped through a red light… brief administrative leave from what I reall. I wrote a letter to the editor about the police’s reckless driving habits… I later wished I hadn’t.

  • avatar

    Once upon a time, long, long ago, a Car & Driver writer tried to fight a traffic citation legally. The upshot is that in practical terms, you have no Constitutional rights when it comes to traffic citations.

  • avatar

    This approach seems like a violation of the Sixth Amendment, particularly the part about being confronted by witnesses.

    If the “witness” is a machine considered to be infallible, then there is no defense possible. The witness’ credibility ought to always be questioned.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought that Constitutional protections don’t necessarily apply in this type of case, because this isn’t a criminal offense. Is this correct?

      • 0 avatar

        I thought that Constitutional protections don’t necessarily apply in this type of case, because this isn’t a criminal offense. Is this correct?

        It depends. Many states have made camera tickets a civil, rather than a criminal matter, plus most states that criminalize moving violations have both lower penalties and fewer legal protections.

        In Maryland, camera tickets are a civil matter. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that the Sixth Amendment doesn’t apply to civil cases. So in this case, you are correct.

        That being said, traffic courts do often play fast and loose with the law. In practice, a defendant without an attorney is usually guilty until proven innocent, and it’s not likely that he’ll be proven innocent.

        Judges usually favor the cops, plus they dislike pro se defendants, so the deck is stacked against the average citizen who goes to court to fight a ticket. In my opinion, you’re better off looking for technicalities that would get the case dismissed, rather than relying upon the facts to save you, even if you didn’t do it.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you. I didn’t think it applied to civil cases.

      • 0 avatar

        “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”</em

        I always thought that "property" meant "property" but the Supreme Court apparently disagrees on that one as well.

      • 0 avatar

        The real question is what is “due process of law”?

    • 0 avatar

      Really, the accuser is not the machine, but the cop who interprets the evidence recorded by the machine, which is just about the same as everything else. (If a person commits murder and there are no witnesses, they are still prosecuted based on the interpretation of evidence, including photo/video evidence.)

      • 0 avatar

        Really, the accuser is not the machine, but the cop who interprets the evidence recorded by the machine

        If that’s the case, then the person who operates the equipment should be required to testify. But in camera cases, they often are not.

        If a person commits murder and there are no witnesses, they are still prosecuted based on the interpretation of evidence, including photo/video evidence.

        If the sole evidence for a homicide case was a video recording of someone who was allegedly of the perpetrator, then it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convict.

        There’s really no comparison. In the real world, the courts usually presume that the cameras are accurate, nor do they demand any other evidence to corroborate the prosecution’s case. Your analogy is simply wrong.

  • avatar

    The only good news about something like this is that the judge probably hates her job as much as the residents (and passers-through) hate having that kind of judge.

  • avatar

    Dang. I live quite near PG county. Would love to know where these cameras that are giving false readings are located. Or are they all of them?

    Guess I’ll be going 20mph past every camera I see in PG from now on!

  • avatar

    Paintball would be a viable solution to this problem. Not the sugar water stuff, the weather resistant type used on trees is a better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      yeah I agree if the camera is set to ticket people speeding then just roll by real slow with the paint gun, its not taking your picture, LOL. I cant stand citation cameras, put someone work oh I dont know a police officer maybe to do the job. Oh thats right the city is too cheap for that. They would rather use a screwed up system and then crap on any defense.

    • 0 avatar

      DO NOT FIRE A PAINTBALL FROM YOUR CAR AT A CAMERA. There are other cameras around, and your license plate is clearly visible.

      Shooting cameras from the sidewalk however… Stick with the cheapest paint you can find (the expensive stuff washes well) and apply liberally.

    • 0 avatar

      That would be perfect, just don’t put the judges eye out.

  • avatar

    It would be great to have an independent third party perform a comprehensive evaluation of one of these units for accuracy and precision. The potential sources of systematic uncertainty are legion.

    So how about it consumer/citizen/motorist advocacy groups?

    • 0 avatar

      its a joke to think they are not 3rd party varified from the start, what a scam, heck most people dont want them but the cites went ahead and signed them on to save/generate money and look how that has been bck firing across the country now.

  • avatar

    this wouldn’t happen to be the same jurisdiction that declared a bone stock pontiac G8 to be illegal to drive because of its tail lights would it?

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, this is pretty sick . . . and has costs that far exceed whatever revenue PG county receives from these gadgets. The costs being disrepect for the law and a legal system which whores itself to act as a random revenue collector.

    The remedy here is at the ballot box, folks.

    And, BTW, apropos the comment about the judge feeling bad this: Judge, in case you forgot, your job is to do justice for the parties who appear before you. If that’s too much of a burden for you and you want to rubber-stamp these questionable citations, then the taxpayers should just save the money and eliminate your job . . . or else re-deploy you doing something like picking up litter on highway 210.

  • avatar

    For those of you who always blow past the “Should Judge (name here) be retained” on your ballot, remember this article next election day. And in the meantime, find out what neanderthals might be on the bench in your fair county.

  • avatar

    I hate to say this, but I know Mickey personally. I refuse to talk to him about his job because it makes me so angry.

    Vote these people out of office and out of business!

    • 0 avatar

      You know Mickey personally? I have met him several times, in court. Has he always struggled with the truth? Did you know he has a degree in theology from a bible college. Hardly the credentials of an automated speed enforcement system “expert”. That’s how he presents himself in court. I wonder if he had the same ethics training as Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, James and Tammy Faye Baker? Listen to Mickey under oath;

  • avatar

    Oh just pay the two dollars. Is it really that big a deal.

  • avatar

    Here is a tale of two cities for you guys —

    When I was still living at home & borrowing pops car (which he still has) a 93 century wagon, I got ticketed for blowing a red. The problem is the photo showed the light yellow.

    I went to court & was told that a red light ticket not showing a red was NOT one of the acceptable defenses in the people’s republic of Chicago.

    Another buddy in Joliet got hit for going something like 65 in a 55 (min $375). This is a guy working 2 jobs with 2 kids & a wife at home. This was via one of those traffic vans with a camera in it.

    He’s A good guy all around.

    He plead guilty & asked if he could get the fine reduced. The judge told him he hated the camera vans & would just toss it and to slow down.

    Afterthought: I no longer travel in/to Chicago anymore due to being fed-up with the place except for an occasional visit to the ‘rents. I no longer live there either.

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