BERLIN – Practical judicial innovation is pretty rare, and for good reasons. Unlike the private sector, government, and especially the judicial branch, have particular responsibilities that must be met regardless of cost. But a newly passed law enacted this week solves a fundamentally weak procedural problem while not significantly reducing a person’s right to a fair and speedy trial.
Beginning Jan. 1 people receiving traffic summons will have the option of three options. As has always been the case, people can either pay the fine uncontested or have a court date set. The new wrinkle, however, allows defendants to “Request a hearing regarding sentencing and disposition in lieu of a trial,” according to a Maryland State Police (MSP) release.
A day in traffic court has become a sentence unto itself. With the exception of the occasional challenge of the facts or actual criminal offenses – driving under the influence, driving without a license – traffic court consists mainly in people with pretty good driving records explaining to the judge why they should be given a second chance.
The expense of a moving violations ticket goes beyond whatever fine the state imposes. Drivers insurance rates are affected by the points associated with a traffic citation and are usually significantly more costly than state fines. Once your insurance rate is affected by a moving violation conviction, it can take years of perfect driving before your rate returns to normal.
If the judge, however, sees fit to grant a person probation before judgment or to reduce the charges, that person can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in insurance increases. As a result, the courts have become kind of clogged with people admitting to the violation and providing a reason, excuse or explanation in hopes of the judge offering a reduction.
In cases of probation before judgment the judge can hold the verdict for one year and if no other violations occur within that period of time, the case is not reported as a conviction to the insurance company.
In addition to the new rule streamline things for the public, the MSP is expected to experience significant savings both in overtime and due to increased productivity.
According to the MSP, the old rules often required massive and multiple schedule changes as officers were required to go to court for cases in which the facts weren’t disputed because there was no way to tell if they would be beforehand.
Also, the previous automatic assignment of court dates meant that an officer’s schedule might be altered several times over the course of one minor traffic citation, costing the state well more in overtime and productivity than it reaped with a guilty verdict.
The only new burden on the public is that a person issued a citation must choose one of the three options within 30 days of receiving the citation. The penalty to do so may result in having one’s license suspended.
Reminders about the new procedure will be provided on the citations but the MSP encourages people with further questions to contact the District Court of Maryland 800-492-2656.