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.
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.