Man Questions Legality Of Red Light Tickets In DC

7:05 PM, Feb 4, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- A Silver Spring man is calling into question the legality of DC's red light ticket program after researching a ticket his father received that raised numerous red flags.

The ticket was issued after a camera caught Paul Meijer's vehicle at the intersection of Military Rd. and 14th St., NW. He was traveling west on Military Road, on his way to pick up his grandchildren at school near that intersection.

Meijer said he followed the rules for turning right on red to turn onto 14th St. northbound. Then, a couple of weeks later, he received a ticket with a $150 fine.

"My first reaction was it's a pain in the neck to have to go and fight the ticket," he said. "So I was stupid and lazy as my wife and I paid the ticket."

It was a decision he soon regretted after his son Daniel hunkered down to research the legality of the fine.

"I was suspicious when I saw the ticket, because it didn't cite a specific DCMR regulation that was violated," said Daniel Meijer. "When an officer cites you for an infraction, he's obliged to cite the law you have violated, and then you can look that up and see what issues are. A fair-minded judge should dismiss the ticket on that ground alone."

Daniel contacted his father's city council member and through her office, they received a response from Lisa Sutter, the Program Manager for Metropolitan Police Department Homeland Security Bureau.

"I reviewed the video for this violation and believe the ticket would be upheld at DMV and not dismissed," she wrote in the letter to Ward 4 Council member Muriel Browser's staff.

The letter also referenced a link where Meijer could watch a video of the actual violation that occurred. The family was appalled.

So Meijer's son Daniel researched and reached out to DC Police.

"So this was all news to us, because the law specifically doesn't say that you can make videos of the violation, only allows police to make still photos," said Daniel. "If you want to modify the law to include this, that requires public hearings and public debate about whether you want police to have the ability to record your activities. There's some ethical and legal issues that need to be publicly debated about how far we want the police to follow your activities."

9NEWS NOW contacted Sutter's office, and we were directed to the Public Information Department. A spokeswoman wrote this in response:

"While we cannot comment on the individual ticket, we can assure you that, consistent with the law, all automated traffic enforcement tickets are based on a photograph. When available, we may also provide on the mailed ticket notice a web address to link to any video evidence of the violation. However this merely supplements the photographic evidence, and does not replace it." - Gwendolyn Crump, Director of Office of Communications

Even if his father made a rolling right turn at a red light, Daniel said he should have been fined $100 for such an infraction. Instead, his dad was charged $150, the fine for running a red light.

"My father and other parents and grandparents by this particular camera are due a fifty dollar refund for being overcharged. For this infraction at least that," he said. "Also, if they're that sloppy at inaccurately saying what that infraction was, it calls into question all these tickets."

Daniel Meijer wrote a letter to the editor of the Northwest Current. He hopes it sparks response. Below is the letter verbatim:

Red light tickets need revision in DC

My father, a longtime D.C. resident (since 1954) and D.C. taxpayer, received in the mail a $150 "Signal Pass Red Lite" camera ticket from the Metropolitan Police Department. This $150 fine was a doubled fine. The doubling occurred recently in an emergency rule-making process to "...contribute to the revenue necessary to maintain the District's balance budget."

Upon investigation we found three problems with the ticketing process. First, the ticket was not for the infraction stated. The actual violation was rolling through a right turn on red, an infraction carrying a considerably smaller fine.

Second, the decision o issue this ticket was not based on the still photos shown on the ticket that was received in the mail (as authorized by D.C. law) but rather on a video clip from the red light camera. Use of the videos for driving infractions is not specifically permitted by D.C. law, and as a result these videos have no time codes or from numbers embedded in them upon which to determine accurately time-based moving violations. Nonetheless, such "videos" are collected and retained in D.C. police files.

Third, it appears that the tickets D.C. issues for red-light traffic camera violations are issued only by a "program manager," not a D.C. plice officer who must swear under oath to uphold the laws of the District of Columbia.

If drivers receive tickets in the mail based on a red light traffic camera, they cannot rely on the ticket for correctly stating the violation. In other words, they won't know what they did wrong. This appears to defeat the legislative purpose of imposing these fines, namely to persuade drivers to obey traffic laws.

In light of these problems with D.C.'s ticketing process, it would appear that the real goal of ticketing is to maximize city revenue rather than teach drivers or improve public safety.

Daniel Meijer, Silver Spring

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