If you drive in and around Maryland on a regular basis, you've likely seen the traffic cameras hanging from light posts, buildings, and bus stops. The cameras are there to monitor traffic, record accidents, and catch basic traffic offenses, like speeding and running red lights.
There's little that's more frustrating than getting tickets from speed cameras in Maryland. Often, the tickets are delivered in the mail several days after the alleged speeding occurred, so you may not even remember that you were speeding at that particular time. While the practice may not seem fair, it is legal.
There is, however, one caveat to the legality of the speed cameras. Police must announce the camera's presence and its exact location to the public. This is most often done with an advertisement in a local newspaper. If the police department doesn't advertise the camera, any tickets issued by the camera could be nullified.
That's exactly what happened in January in Upper Marlboro. A local television station noticed that a particular camera at St. Ignatius Loyola School in Fort Washington had been advertised in the newspaper, but the camera's address hadn't been included. That's a violation of the speed camera requirements.
After reviewing the situation, the police department concluded that they had submitted the correct information to the newspaper, but the camera's location was somehow pulled from the ad copy during editing. The more than 2,000 tickets that had been issued by the camera were nullified and approximately 1,500 people will receive refunds for fines that they paid. The remainder will see their tickets voided.
Speeding tickets are often the kind of citations that people pay with little contest. After all, most tickets are issued in person by a police officer immediately after the speeding took place.
However, the practice of issuing tickets from speed cameras in Maryland opens a new set of questions about what kind of monitoring is legal and what is not. The law at this point states that police departments can use cameras if the public has been made aware that the cameras are in place. As seen in the Upper Marlboro incident, making the public aware of the cameras is no easy task, and it's easy for departments to make administrative errors along the way.
If you receive tickets from speed cameras in Maryland, it may be worth checking into whether the police department met its obligation to make the community aware. A defense attorney who handles traffic issues could do a preliminary check to make sure the camera and the ticket are legal.
Update: The Maryland General Assembly passed a speed camera reform bill recently signed by the governor. The bill effectively bans the "bounty system," where contractors are rewarded financially based on the number of tickets issued. Additionally, the legislation requires jurisdictions to alert drivers of speed cameras by posting signs and waiting 15 days before a ticket is issued upon the signage being placed. Many consider this a step in the right direction but believe it was missing auditing requirements as well as time stamps on the photos to further protect the drivers.