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City errs with speed camera mistakes

Justice System

In Baltimore, speed camera citation errors have been treated differently. In one case, 3,145 citations were declared void because the wrong address block of Wabash Avenue appeared on the citation. According to news reports, the city refunded to the owners of the photographed motor vehicles the amounts paid as fines or waived enforcing those citations. In another case, some 8,400 citations contained photographic images of the subject motor vehicles on Kelley Avenue, which runs eastbound and westbound. Errors in the citations resulted because written directions were inserted as northbound or southbound. According to at least one news report, the city refuses to refund amounts paid and said that owners could contest the citations in court.

City officials have decided the treatment of the Kelley Avenue citations inconsistently with the Wabash Avenue citations. The Kelley Avenue citations show images of the subject motor vehicle traveling eastbound or westbound and state northbound or southbound as the direction, providing conflicting evidence of a factual impossibility. The citations' truthfulness is unreliable on its face and will likely prevent the city from proving its cases by a preponderance of the evidence in a civil case. A speed camera citation case is not treated as a criminal case. The citation errors amount to written statements against the city's interest, such that the eastbound or westbound driver can be expected to be dismissed in a civil case for speeding northbound or southbound. The city cannot prove that a car was driven northbound or southbound when the road doesn't run that way. Assuming the city is correct, why did it declare void the Wabash Avenue citations for drivers originally charged with speeding regardless of whether they were in the 4500 block or 5400 block?

This disparate treatment violates the accused automobile owner's right to equal protection under the law set forth in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, since other owners erroneously charged with speeding on Wabash Avenue were treated more favorably than those erroneously charged in a similar manner on Kelley Avenue. MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeswore to uphold the Constitution when taking office. This difference in treatment provides her an opportunity to act upon that oath to see that all such vehicle owners are treated equally under the law.

The city has no probable cause in these civil cases for causing the cited defendants to defend these charges in court with the errors on the citations. Upon dismissal of these cases, the cited defendants will have a viable cause of action against the city for malicious use of civil process with the possibility of recovering punitive damages. The latter claims can amount to a lot of money per complaint and a staggering amount for up to 8,400 of these complaints. The city is not immune from such lawsuits.

The city's action would also waste precious court resources by causing extra work for already overworked judges to expend time on these frivolous charges in court. Increasing judges' workloads unnecessarily causes a wasteful financial burden for the state. If the Baltimore Department of Transportation or the mayor refuses to change position on the Kelly Avenue citations, Gov.Martin O'Malleyneeds to take the initiative to issue an executive order to refund to affected vehicle owners' amounts paid as fines, and to waive enforcing those erroneous citations for those vehicle owners who have not paid those fines.

Michael T. Benson, Pikesville

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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