Friday, August 09, 2013
Third Maryland Jurisdiction Forced To Refund Illegal Tickets
Add Charles County to the rapidly growing list of Maryland localities that have been forced to refund illegally issued photo radar citations. On July 31, the sheriff's office announced a speed camera in Waldforf has been operating outside of school zone, in violation of state law.
"As a result of this discovery, the Charles County Sheriff's Office shut down all speed cameras in order to conduct a thorough evaluation of the entire automated speed enforcement camera program," the sheriff explained in statement.
A private vendor has been operating three cameras in Charles County since August 2012. These camera housings are now empty because the State Highway Administration noticed that the automated ticketing machine located on Berry Road had been posted 275 feet before the school zone for Daniel of Saint Thomas Jenifer Elementary School begins. The state agency notified the sheriff who agreed to cancel and around 4000 tickets, refunding any fines that have been paid because ticketing site did not meet legal standards.
"The Maryland Annotated Code allows School Zones to be established within a one-half mile radius of any school," the State Highway Administration explained. "However, this does not mean that all roadways within a one-half mile radius should be a school zone."
Charles County joins songsfrom cocktail movie allowing Brekford to operate a speed camera program under a per-ticket compensation contract. A refund is also likely in Laurel.
The photo ticketing setback in Charles County will take a serious chunk out of the $2,013,000 revenue the county expected to generate by allowing the contractor to issue 35,000 tickets.
"For fiscal year 2014, fines and forfeitures are expected to increase by 52 percent primarily due to the second year of the expanded speed camera program," the county's 2014 budget explains.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
Australia: Safety Official Seeks Refund Of 987 Speed Camera Tickets
Gordon Lewis, the Road Safety Commissioner in Victoria, Australia, on Thursday recommended 987 vehicle owners receive a refund on speed camera tickets they received in the space of a little more than an hour on the Western Ring Road. A camera trap had been set on June 30 at the Keilor Park Drive Bridge.
Ordinarily, the speed limit at the location is 100km/h (62 MPH), and few violations are issued. On June 28 and June 29 at the same location, for example, only 3 vehicle owners were mailed citations for speeding. The number of tickets issued jumped 32,930 percent on June 30, and after being questioned about the incident on talk radio, Lewis determined to get to the bottom of what happened.
On June 30, electronic speed limit signs were used to reduce the speed limit to 80km/h (50 MPH) and then once again to 40km/h (25 MPH) through a construction zone in front of the tunnel. Drivers were tricked into thinking after the end of the highway work zone, the limit would have returned to 80km/h or 100km/h. They may also have been unable to see the electronic speed limit signs because they were distracted by traffic merging from three lanes to one.
"I consider this led to the mistaken assumption by some motorists that the speed limit restriction to 40km/h was then over and they began to accelerate to what they believed was the correct speed limit," Lewis wrote. "It would seem that a herd mentality set in and many others followed their example."
Lewis added that if the agency wanted to fairly enforce the speed limit at that location, it would have placed a set of temporary 40km/h speed limit signs after the roadworks and before the bridge.
"In the interests of fairness, I recommend that Victoria Police withdraw those traffic infringement notices and issue official warnings in their place," Lewis wrote. "Any infringement penalty paid in relation to these offenses should be refunded and any demerit points reversed."
Because of the 60 km/h (37 MPH) differential in the usual speed limit and the temporary speed limit, 269 vehicle owners received serious penalties that included a license suspension ranging from one month to a year plus fines of up to $722 (which rises to $1660 for heavy vehicles). Another 718 received fines of up to $289 each. Lewis insisted the cameras themselves were perfectly accurate.
"All fixed road safety camera systems in Victoria are equipped with an independently operating and calibrated secondary speed calculation unit or secondary device," Lewis wrote. "The secondary devices at the Keilor Park Drive Bridge are inductive loop sensors installed where the radar signals hit the road. Inductive loop sensors measure a change in magnetism corresponding to the metallic content of vehicles when they travel over them."
US speed camera systems do not use this form of secondary verification. Australian systems have had no choice but to increase the safeguards after an incident in July 2003 when a 1975 Datsun 120Y was accused of speeding at 98 MPH. Even after the thirty-year-old Datsun was tested and found to be capable of reaching speeds no greater than 73 MPH, police officials dug in their heels and insisted the photo enforcement system was accurate and that the fine would stand. Intense publicity arising out of her case, however, forced an independent test of the Western Ring Road cameras that concluded faulty in-ground sensors and electromagnetic interference had been responsible for generating bogus speed readings. The state government was forced to issue $26 million in refunds.
A copy of the report is available in a PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Investigation into 991 infringements issued on 30 June 2013 (Road Safety Camera Commissioner, Victoria, Australia, 8/8/2013)
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ATS Settles PlatePass Rental Car Ticketing Lawsuit
American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and the rental firm Hertz have decided to pay $11 million to settle a songsfor mobile video as part of a settlement for illegally issuing tickets at intersections where the yellow signal timing was not justified. Ticket recipients in that case began receiving post cards this week.
The PlatePass settlement applies to anyone who rented a vehicle from Hertz between July 1, 2006 and March 31, 2010, and had PlatePass-related charges added to their bill. Attorneys for the motorists reviewed the entire PlatePass database and 6 gigabytes worth of data to make their case that had ATS find it better to settle the potential damages for pennies on the dollar.
"Defendants consider it desirable, fair and reasonable that this action be resolved upon the terms and conditions set forth in this agreement in order to avoid the expense, risk, uncertainty and interference with ongoing business operations inherent in any litigation," the settlement agreement states.
The settlement agreement leaves it between ATS and Hertz to decide whether "one or both" companies should pay the refunds. The lawyers who filed the class action suit will pocket $3.1 million. Drivers, on the other hand, will receive 67 percent of any administrative fee paid to ATS on the first use of PlatePass, and a 38 percent refund for all subsequent charges. ATS could end up paying less than the $11 million settlement amount if postcard recipients do not bother filling out and returning the "proof of claim" form within 90 days to receive a few dollars back.
Those affected have until September 24 to opt out of the settlement and US District Judge Noel L. Hillmanhas scheduled a hearing for final approval of the deal on October 15.
A copy of the information packet for the proposed settlement is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Notice of Proposed Class Action Settlement (American Traffic Solutions/Hertz, 8/6/2013)
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
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A motorist's bag cannot be searched because his car has an expired tag, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last week. A divided three-judge panel overturned the conviction of Adam Miller, who was pulled over on January 9, 2011 for having an expired sticker on his license plate.
Bloomington Police Officer Jordan Hasler activated his lights and Miller pulled off into a parking lot. While waiting for Officer Hasler, Miller got out of his car and was ordered to return to his vehicle. This repeated three times. The fourth time, Officer Hasler put Miller in handcuffs outside the car and frisked him for weapons. None were found. Miller proved to be the lawful owner of the vehicle, though the tag was expired. After Officer Hasler noted Miller smelled of marijuana, he ordered Miller's car to be towed away because of the registration lapse. The towing allowed him to perform an inventory search of the vehicle under departmental policy.
Miller was handed a ticket and told he was free to go. Miller said he wanted to get his cell phone out of the backpack in his car. Officer Hasler decided to search the bag for "officer safety" and he found a Tupperware container of marijuana and a pipe. Officer Hasler also found a loaded handgun in a locked glove compartment, but Miller had a license to possess it. He was booked on one count of possession of paraphernalia. At trial, the backpack search became the center of controversy.
"If a person comes to me and says I want a backpack or I want a hat in my car and it's being inventoried, I'm going to search it for weapons prior to giving it back to him because I'm not going to hand him a case or a back pack after inventory in it that has a handgun or knife or something inside of it, for my safety," Officer Hasler testified.
Miller argued that the backpack search violated his Fourth Amendment rights because Officer Hasler had no real safety concern or reason to suspect a crime had been committed. The court majority agreed, finding the release from handcuffs showed the officer did not see Miller as a threat. Since the smell of marijuana was on Miller's clothing, not in the car, it could not be used as a justification for searching the backpack inside the vehicle.
"Because we conclude that Officer Hasler provided no facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonably prudent person to believe that a search would uncover evidence of a crime, probable cause to search Miller's backpack did not exist," Judge Patricia A. Riley wrote for the majority. "As a result, the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment cannot be applied to uphold the search. Therefore, the trial court erred by denying Miller's motion to suppress."
The court reversed Miller's conviction. A copy of the decision is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Miller v. Indiana (Court of Appeals, State of Indiana, 7/30/2013)
Monday, August 05, 2013
New York: Federal Court Upholds Random License Search
Motorists suspected of no wrongdoing can be pulled over and their license searched in a database regardless of whether they are suspected of having done anything wrong, a federal court ruled on Thursday. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found no problem with the way the New York City Police Department (NYPD) handled a roadblock that impeded traffic for two hours in the Bronx on October 5, 2010 just before midnight.
Each person traveling on the road was stopped and ordered to produce his license which an officer ran through the NYPD "Finest" program that checks with NYSpin (New York Statewide Police Information Network). This database combines information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Motor Vehicles and other sources. In the twenty-two years NYPD Officer Ramon Garcia has been running names through the database, he has only made two serious arrests. He ran the license of Ronnie Bernacet that evening and noted that he was on parole.
Bernacet had been released from Sing Sing in 2009 on charges of fifth degree possession of controlled substances, which refers to having the ingredients of a narcotic on his person. The parole expires in September 2014.
Officer Garcia determined that Bernacet was likely violating the terms of his release since it was more than two-and-a-half hours past the usual 9pm curfew imposed on parolees. He ordered Bernacet out of his car and frisked him, finding an Armi Galesi Bresci Brevetto .25 caliber pistol and a knife is his pocket. Bernacet was arrested for being a felon in possession, an arrest the ex-con challenged, arguing that the database search was illegal because it was not closely related to the purported traffic safety purpose of the checkpoint itself. The US Supreme Court's Edmond decision found that roadblocks cannot be used for general crime control, but the NYSpin looked into databases containing information about general crimes, including parole status. Bernacet also argued the evidence of the gun should be suppressed because New York law does not allow police to use warrantless arrests for parole violations to search suspects. The court conceded that Bernacet had a point, but not enough to make a difference.
"We agree that Bernacet's arrest was illegal under New York law but conclude that it was constitutionally permissible," Judge Richard Carl Wesley wrote for the three-judge panel. "The exclusionary rule therefore does not apply."
The court found that the search was not a Fourth Amendment violation simply because it violated one state's law. The court upheld his conviction.
"Bernacet's checkpoint stop was legal and the NYPD had probable cause to believe that he was violating his parole," Judge Wesley wrote. "His arrest by the police staffing the checkpoint, while contrary to New York law, was constitutionally reasonable. The search incident to his arrest uncovered a handgun; because the arrest was constitutionally proper, this weapon was properly admitted at Bernacet's trial."
A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: US v. Bernacet (US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 8/1/2013)
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