Court Orders Small Ohio Speed Trap Town To Refund $3 Million In Unconstitutional Speeding Tickets

from the brace-for-a-revenue-drought dept

The state of Ohio has had its problems with speed cameras. Back in 2010, the city of New Garfield refunded $100,000 in fines collected in violation of its speed camera policy. The city told the public that drivers would only be ticketed for driving more than eleven mph over the speed limit [… which makes one question the purpose of its speed limits]. Plenty of drivers got dinged for exceeding the speed limit by less than the arbitrary cutoff, resulting in the mass refund.

Not that this will necessarily keep anyone from being ticketed, speeding or not. In the same year, an Ohio court ruled that an officer’s guesstimate of someone’s speed is just as reliable as radar or speed cameras when it comes to testimony. Given how many speed cameras have ticketed parked cars and brick walls, this is somewhat of a “close case” when it comes to testimonial accuracy.

The Newspaper — which stays on top of every speed/traffic cam-related development [note: they really HATE traffic cams in France…] — reports that New Miami, Ohio, is being forced to hand back every cent of its speed camera take as the result of a court decision.

New Miami, Ohio broke the law, it was caught, and now it will have to repay $3,066,523 worth of tickets. That was the judgment rendered Wednesday by Butler County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael A. Oster Jr.

“If the government has created an unconstitutional law/ordinance that has taken people’s money without affording them the necessary due process protections, should not justice demand, and the law require, restitution of that money to the people?” Oster asked at the opening of his ruling. “Once the complexities of the law are analyzed, the answer is simple: Yes.”

As the court sees it, the system set up by the town eliminates a crucial Constitutional right. It’s very likely the town knew its actions were unconstitutional, but it probably never assumed it would have to refund $3 million in ill-gotten revenue.

New Miami, Ohio, is more speed trap than town, as the court order [PDF] explains:

The Village of New Miami is in St. Clair Township located just north of the city of Hamilton. New Miami is less than one square mile in size (.95 square miles) and has a population of 2,249 people based on the 2010 United States Census Bureau. US. 127, a major north-south highway, runs through the Village and is the primary location where the speed cameras were located.

Despite its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it size, the village still issued an incredible amount of tickets, thanks in part to its freebie contract with camera provider Blue Line Solutions (BLS). The contract it signed required the cameras (of which there were at least two) to be in operation for a minimum of 100 hours a month. This isn’t unmanned time, as the camera system requires an officer to pull a trigger and capture an image of the speeding driver to send to the processing company that issues the tickets.

BLS gave the town the cameras for free, under the assumption the investment would pay off with operating times of 100 hours per month minimum per camera.

After review by a Village of New Miami police supervisor, the ticket is mailed to the registered owner and a fine of $95 is included.

The village and Blue Line Solutions, LLC split each $95 fine with one another. The village keeps 65 percent of the $95 fine while the private camera company keeps 35 percent.

The speed cameras as free for the village, provided to the village by the private contractor under the five year deal.

To ensure the revenue flow wasn’t disrupted by angry drivers and/or insurance companies, the town rewrote its statutes to cut both the criminal justice system and insurance companies out of the equation.

Village of New Miami records show the small Butler County village created its own speeding law in 1991, allowing the village to charge speeding violations under a civil ordinance instead of under the state’s uniform traffic statute.

Under the village ordinance, drivers caught speeding in New Miami would not be subjected to the state’s point system, which would suspend a driver who accrued 12 point violations in a two year period. As a result, insurance companies would not know the conduct of the drivers they cover.

None of that matters now that the court has found the village’s system unconstitutional and the town responsible for paying back members of this class action lawsuit. And this $3 million will all be coming from New Miami. The camera manufacturer has no liability if the cameras are deployed unlawfully. That’s all on the municipality, which will probably have to screw its own residents to issue refunds on the hundreds of bogus tickets as the money it’s unlawfully collected over the years hasn’t just been sitting around collecting interest.

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Companies: blue line solutions

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Comments on “Court Orders Small Ohio Speed Trap Town To Refund $3 Million In Unconstitutional Speeding Tickets”

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51 Comments
Geno0wl (profile) says:

RLC

I didn’t even know that “speed cameras” were even really a thing.

I do know that in Ohio that at least RLCs are basically illegal. They passed a law that in essence said that people have the “right to face your accuser”. AKA if a camera “pops” you that an officer has to be present to actually hand them the ticket.

Well obviously that kinda defeated the entire purpose of the automated systems.

Chris (profile) says:

Re: RLC

I must admit I’ve never really understood the “right to face your accuser” argument. Your accuser would be a police officer, using the camera footage as evidence.

Much like if I broke into a store at night and stole a bunch of stuff, the fact that a police officer used security camera footage to identify and eventually arrest me does not implicate my fourth amendment rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: RLC

“Face your accuser” is intended to give the accused the chance to rebut the evidence. To rebut the evidence, the defendant must know the nature of the evidence and the quality of the accuser. How many people claim to have seen the crime? Did they see it with enough specificity to identify the defendant as the perpetrator? Do these witnesses have a history of (un)reliable testimony? Without this right, there is nothing to preclude that the government’s evidence consist entirely of anonymous allegations by self-identified upstanding witnesses, whose identities are not available to the defendant, so their veracity cannot be questioned and they bear no risk to their respective reputations if the testimony is ever found to be in error. (If this description of irrefutable anonymous witnesses sounds like the makings of a fusion center or terrorist watchlist, well…)

If you are accused of a crime, and the evidence against you is a self-identified eyewitness, the right to face your accuser should provide that the eyewitness come to court, swear to tell the truth, swear that he/she saw you commit the crime, and that you be given the chance to convince the jury that this eyewitness is wrong (whether maliciously or accidentally).

When the evidence against you is a digital recording, your recourse is to try to convince the jury that the recording is (a) fake or (b) does not demonstrate (to the standard required by law) that the defendant is the person shown on the recording. In the context of traffic law, facing one’s accuser ought to include some evidence that the defendant was personally operating the ticketed vehicle. Many jurisdictions that operate red light cameras adopt the improper standard that they can cite a vehicle and its owner is legally liable for the offense, regardless of whether the owner was even in the vehicle at the time.

Chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: RLC

I don’t disagree with any of that, but I don’t see how that differentiates between:
* Footage of me running a red light.
* Footage of me robbing the cash register after closing.
The improper standard situation seems more like a burden of proof problem, not a problem of me not being able to face my accuser. I’d have the opportunity to face my accuser (the law enforcement officer who reviewed the tape), they just might be unable to prove that it was me in the car.

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 RLC

You have the right to argue that the camera is deficient. That it calculated the speed improperly, read the license place incorrectly. Many such mistakes have been made. That the reputed purpose of the cameras, which is to reduce accidents, actually increases them.

That there may be footage of someone that looks like you robbing a store, but that it was not you.

Maybe it wasn’t you.

To hold that you can’t face your accuser is to say that an accusation is proof of guilt.

Chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 RLC

I feel like I’m not being properly understood, here.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be able to face your accuser; I’m saying that the accuser is the police officer, who is testifying using the camera footage as evidence.

You absolutely should be able to argue that the camera is deficient or improperly maintained, or that the state has not met the burden of proving that the person on camera is you. Neither of those things has anything to do with your right to face your accuser, however.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 RLC

Think of law enforcement for a second.

When a video surfaces of an officer doing what they’re not supposed to be doing, it’s almost immediate that a union rep will be on camera stating “the footage doesn’t tell the whole story.” (even if it clearly does).

If that kind of canned response is alright for them, then I say it doesn’t matter what the hell is on the camera – there’s some kind of mitigating circumstances that aren’t being shown on the video.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 RLC

You are missing part of the problem. When the RLC sees “you” running the light…they don’t actually see “you”, they see your car. In likely 90+% of cases there would be no easy way to ID whom is actually driving said car.

Hence “right to face accuser” part comes in. Driving citations are supposed to go to the person whom is actually driving the vehicle at the time of the infraction, not just who the car belongs to.

Chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 RLC

Right, but again, that’s a burden of proof problem, and not a “right to face your accuser” problem.

If a police officer watches footage of a robbery, and they surmise that the masked individual on camera is me, and they arrest me, it is absolutely valid for me to argue in court that the individual on camera is not actually me, and/or that the police have not met their burden of proof.

It would be weird, however, for me to argue that the use of a camera somehow violates my right to face my accuser.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

wrong, that was just the down payment, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

The final price is never paid, a new tyranny will always attempt to instate itself in new and fertile grounds or upon the ashes of a former tyranny.

Perhaps now you see the conundrum and the success of the police state? The moment exercising your rights became part of the problem, as it is now, we lost the fight for liberty.

The war however, is never over!

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: No need to screw the residents

It should come out of the town officials’ pockets, but ever heard of insurance? It’s far more likely that the town will go to its insurance policy, the insurance company will fight them over the minor fact that this unconstitutional and then settle for a partial payment, at which point the town’s denizens will owe something, but not everything.

I’ve lived in a few states, but I’d have to say that Ohio probably has higher proportion of towns that exist solely to be speedtraps than most states.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Math

This is why egregious infringement of Constitutional rights on the part of any government employee or elected official should carry with it either a jail sentence or fine.

It was all well and good for the founding fathers believe the court system could keep things in check, but the reality is, with no legal way of enforcing its verdicts upon government officials, they can get away with anything they want to, including wholesale theft and attempted genocide (and historically have done so).

Doug says:

Re: Re: The Math

… egregious infringement of Constitutional rights .. should carry with it either a jail sentence or fine.

I agree in principle. In practice this is very hard to get right and would essentially discourage anyone from serving in government at all. But we should move closer to your suggested end of the spectrum, for sure.

Perhaps less extreme than that, I propose that there be some notion of impeachment for incompetence. That is, you’re not jailed or fined, but if you demonstrate that you’re incompetent at being a government official, then you should not be a government official. You should lose your job. That’s also hard to define and easy to abuse, but doesn’t have quite the deterrent effect for public service as jail or fines would have.

What we kind of already have, but not really, is the notion of failure to be reelected due to incompetence. Voters should hold their elected officials accountable for incompetence. That hardly happens though, due to myriad failings of our electoral systems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Math

“I agree in principle. In practice this is very hard to get right and would essentially discourage anyone from serving in government at all.”

Found the shill.

Citizens are not allowed to claim ignorance of the law as an excuse for breaking one, yet you are okay with the nebulous idea that law enforcement, i.e. people involved with enforcing it, should not be held to the same standard that they hold citizens to at the literal end of a fucking barrel of a gun?

With dumb-ass fucking people like you, who need enemies?

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

The practice of using a still photo to prove a moving violation has always been a dubious undertaking, abetted by judges too willing to play their part in a money making machine.

I have no sympathy for the poor citizens who will have to cough up the money to pay the town’s victims back. Screw them, they were happy to share the profits from this scam, now they will share the pain.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Those who do not learn are doomed to repeat it…

The good ole boy sheriffs who would pull over city slickers and shake them down, until they pissed of the right person.

We don’t need to manage our budget, we have this plan where we’re gonna scoop up all sorts of cash from people who, even if they wanted to, can’t come back to fight it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"So about that three million you need to pay back…"

"After a careful examination of our books, it seems that the two million you claim that we need to refund will likely take a bit to collect."

"Two million?"

"Indeed, the one and a half million refund will take a bit of time, spaced out to avoid unduly burdening the town."

"Wait, what?"

"But have no fear, we will most certainly repay the half a million in tickets, it will just take a bit of time. Completely unrelated, but how long do you have to oversee this case? Just out of curiosity."

Anonymous Coward says:

Necessary, but insufficient, restitution

That money may not have been earning interest for the town all this time, but it plausibly could have been earning interest in the accounts of its rightful owners (or, given how cash strapped the average American is), could have been used to pay off a high interest debt of the rightful owner. Refunding the face value of the tickets is a necessary, but insufficient, restitution considering that the rightful owners were not only deprived of their money, but also deprived of the benefits they could have used that money to buy: bank account interest, investments, or paying off credit card debt.

In the interest of making proper restitution, I propose that the town’s public property be audited and, if any of it cannot be proved to have been purchased with clean money, that property shall be presumed to derive from the town’s unjust enrichment and therefore shall be forfeited and auctioned off to raise the proceeds necessary to fully repay, with all due interest, the rightful owners. To be fair to the town and its residents, the town has 14 days, starting from the date of this post, to prepare all its records and present them to a court of competent jurisdiction. Scheduling of court appearances will be handled by a clerk in a locked room guarded by a leopard. Bring a torch.

DB (profile) says:

Uncollectible debt?

I’m guessing that the town has been making itself as judgment proof as possible.

The funds were spent a long time ago. The company isn’t going to disgorge their share, and will probably be first in line as a creditor.

And throughout the attitude will be that it was the drivers breaking the law, and the town is being picked on by the judge.

Anonymous Coward says:

the court has found the village’s system unconstitutional and the town responsible for paying back members of this class action lawsuit. And this $3 million will all be coming from New Miami

KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK
KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK
KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK
KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK

Anonymous Coward says:

if i owned a town, i’d arrange it so that locals could purchase stickers that allow them to exceed the posted speed limits. the larger the discrepancy, the more expensive the sticker.

then i’d have my cops posted to watch for outsiders keeping up with the locals, thinking that it was safe to drive those speeds.

mmmm…mmm. money, sweet money. the crooked state where i live will likely do something like that one of these days. especially since their tax-by-the-mile program is emitting whoopee-cushion sounds.

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