Effective Jan. 1, 2011, a new state law will change how drivers with traffic tickets handle the violations. Today drivers who receive tickets for minor offenses, such as speeding or running a red light, are issued a fine and an automatic trial date to dispute the ticket. Under the new law effective Jan. 1, drivers must request a trial, ask to explain the situation to a judge or simply pay the fine.

Traffic violators must choose one of the three options within 30 days or risk a suspended driver’s license.

Tickets issued after the New Year will clearly list the new options. If drivers elect to have a trial, they will receive a court notice summoning them, the ticketing police officer and any witnesses to appear and testify.

Drivers who opt for a “waiver” hearing can appear before a judge to state their case and ask for reduced penalties. The hearing is not considered a trial and officers and witnesses need not appear. “The waiver hearing is for citizens in Maryland who have good records and may have been speeding but want to explain themselves in hopes of getting a fine or points decreased,” says Elena Russo, spokeswoman for Maryland State Police.

All trials and hearings are held in the District Court of the city or county where the ticket violation occurred.

The new rules exclude “must appear” violations, or offenses such as driving under the influence or on a suspended license that may lead to jail time. Those with “must appear” citations will continue to receive automatic court dates.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the new bill after law enforcement officers lobbied for it, said Terri Bolling of the State of Maryland Judiciary.

Supporters of the new measure say it will increase court and police efficiency and “eliminate needless trips to court.” Current law requires ticketing officers to show in court if the traffic violator does not pay fines by the trial date.

But in half of all Maryland cases scheduled for trial, the officer is not needed because the violator does not appear in court, according to the Department of Legislative Services documents. “Often, people waited until the day before, or even the day of trial to pay the fine,” Maryland State Police said in a news release. “This meant the police officer who issued the citation was already scheduled to appear in court and it was too late to notify him or her that they were not needed to appear.”

Along with optimizing time, Russo says the new system will save the state money by reducing overtime pay accrued by officers needlessly in court. According to fiscal reports, the state spent approximately $22,000 for Baltimore County traffic court costs alone during one month in 2009. The state expects to save $500,000 once the new law is enacted.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO