15 May 2013

Can't Have It Both Ways

There are basically two government approaches to the use of Photo-enforcement:  They treat the traffic lawbreaker just as if he were pulled over by a flesh-and-blood cop, or they treat him like he was two minutes late feeding the parking meter.

Here in Oregon, the fine is the same if you are caught running a red light by cop or by camera.  It affects your insurance and your driving record.  The fine is in excess of $300.  States that do it this way go after the driver.

Other states try to soft-peddle the whole robo-cop thing by making it a non-moving violation and so no insurance rate hike and no points and the fine is usually under a hundred robo-dollars.  States that do it this way, don't care who was driving.  They treat it like a parking fine. 

They just send the bill to the registered owner of the vehicle.  They consider the violation a "civil" matter and that allows them to avoid the whole "innocent-until-proven-guilty" thing.  They mail out the first-class letter and if you don't respond, you are guilty and the collection process begins.

If you ask these states why an obvious moving violation is treated the same as parking too close to a fireplug, they squirm, or they ought to.  If it is a serious driving no-no, that could kill or injure others, why the differing rates?  They don't want to admit that it is not about safety, but revenue collection.  It's easier for them to dun the owner than try to prove who was driving.

That brings us to Ohio.  Where people have not been paying their parking and photo-speeding and red light camera tickets. 

So Dayton Police have, since April 2012, been towing the cars of scofflaws to induce them to make good on their unpaid tickets. 

It was the brainchild of Chief Richard Biehl who felt his hand was forced by those "...who...ignore our traffic laws and flout the system."  So he issued a executive order to confiscate rolling property until the fines are paid. 

And they don't wait for you to leave your car unattended and then stealthily have it towed and then hang around to snigger up their cuff as you come back and perplexedly look for your missing wheels, and guffaw as you look under things where you car could not possibly fit.  No, they actually pull you over while you are driving.
You see Dayton is one of those "owner responsible" photo-ticketing places mentioned above, and the fines are $85 a pop.  They've chosen to streamline the collection shakedown by making the violations a civil process, minimizing the due process safeguards of citizens.

When one of Dayton's finest busted a passenger in one of the tow-list cars for having some crack in his pocket, that shrunken due process came back to bite the Chief. 

Judge Mary E. Donovan, part of a three-judge appellate panel, observed that you can't have it both ways.  The "arrangement" that makes it easier to suck low-level fines out of the motoring public, also eliminates the "criminal element from any charge that would justify a warrantless seizure of a driver."

The Panel also inserted a little smackdown on presumptious police chiefs:  "Driving a motor vehicle while owing civil parking fines is not a crime.  In other words, the protections guaranteed by the Fouth Amendment cannot be altered by means of an executive order issued to police department personnel."


Read the whole article and even download the appellate ruling by going to Ohio Appellate Common Sense

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