New Law Changes Traffic Citation Trial Date Procedure Starting Jan. 1


WASHINGTON (December 9, 2010)—Drivers who want to dispute their traffic tickets will have to speak up come Jan. 1, when a new law aimed at saving the police time and money will eliminate automatically assigned court dates for minor traffic violations.

Instead, drivers accused of speeding or not-exactly-stopping at those stop signs will have three options: pay the full fine; ask for a waiver hearing in lieu of a trial; or request a court date for a trial.

Proponents say the new measure will help reduce the number of police officers being stood up by ticketed drivers in District Court.

Elena Russo, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Police, said the new process will better identify those drivers who truly wish to contest their traffic violations in court.

"And it will certainly eliminate needless trips to the courtroom (for police)," she said.

That appears to be true, said Karen Morgan, principal analyst for the Department of Legislative Services.

Morgan, who provided lawmakers with a report on the fiscal impact of the measure, said the bill—"on balance"—will likely save the state more money.

"I really think there will be savings," she said.

While difficult to quantify for lack of data, Morgan's report suggested that savings of "at least $500,000" annually to the Maryland State Police will outweigh other anticipated costs associated with the law change.

Based on anecdotal evidence supplied by the State Police, the report also stated that over 50 percent of cases scheduled for trial involved drivers who failed to turn up in court.

On Wednesday, Rockville resident Earl Hewitt expressed no qualms over the impending law. "I don't see any problems with freeing up the courts," he said, sitting in the driver's seat in an idling, black Cadillac DTS.

Hyattsville resident William Dabney, who regularly commutes into D.C., also agreed with the new measure's intent.

"That makes sense," he said, adding wryly: unlike missing work to defend oneself over a traffic violation that will end up costing less to just pay up front.

"The (new) law won't bother me a bit."

The law (2010 House Bill 829 and Senate Bill 560), which won unanimous support in the General Assembly was approved by Gov. Martin O'Malley in May, has also drawn support from defense attorneys.

"Oftentimes police, attorneys and drivers have to come back to appear in court over these minor violations," said James DeLorenzo, an attorney who often represents clients in traffic cases.

"To me, the (new) law seems more efficient."

The law applies to "payable traffic tickets"—i.e. speeding, failure to obey traffic signals or stop for a school bus. Meanwhile, "must appear" traffic violations, including DUIs and driving on a suspended license, will continue to involve automatic court dates.

Unlike the trial option, which may consist of witnesses including the ticketing police officer, waiver hearings will only involve drivers wishing to explain their admitted offense to a judge before being sentenced.

And remember: Upon receipt of a "payable traffic ticket" after Jan. 1, 30 days of indecision could result in the Motor Vehicle Administration suspending your license.

And no one disputes that.

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