Baltimore forced to void 6,000 camera tickets. Is New York next?

The City of Baltimore has been forced to dismiss as many as 6,000 tickets sent after drivers were allegedly caught running red lights or speeding by traffic cameras in August or September of last year. The reason? The evidence prosecutors need to prove the traffic violations was apparently lost during the city's transition to a new vendor.

That vendor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, does have a current contract with New York City, although it is unclear whether that contract is for the management of the traffic cameras.

Xerox lost its contract with Baltimore as of Dec. 31 but was kept on for 90 days "to facilitate a smooth transition." Previously, representatives for the company had routinely appeared in court to give evidence, but that ended earlier this month -- leaving prosecutors without what they need to prove their cases. The city says the vendor hasn't provided that evidence to prosecutors directly, while the vendor says it did. Apparently, the city and Xerox are also involved in a payment dispute, although both sides claim that is unrelated.

"If the city is unable to move forward with a case absent information from a vendor, I think it raises the question of who is actually overseeing or running that program," observed a spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The city also announced that at least 500 red light and speeding tickets had to voided because of a programming glitch with the new vendor's cameras, so it has decided to simply stop issuing tickets until the issues are involved.

Baltimore's problem with Xerox points out some long-running issues with the use of cameras to send traffic and speeding tickets -- one that is potentially more important to New York drivers. First, as the AAA spokesperson commented, is it fair to drivers when cities outsource law enforcement and courtroom testimony to vendors?

Second, a number of constitutional scholars argue that receiving traffic tickets via cameras violates drivers' rights privacy and due process rights, in particular the right to confront the witnesses against them. In March, an Ohio judge ruled that they do violate that state's due process guarantee, and both the ACLU and AAA oppose the cameras for similar reasons.

The 6,000 voided tickets will cost the City of Baltimore more than $300,000 in fines, but the city did the right thing. Since traffic and speeding tickets still have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and these could not be, prosecutors were ethically bound not to continue with those cases. 

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "City to void more than 6,000 camera tickets," Scott Calvert, April 23, 2013

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