The New Year ushered new responsibilities for motorists in Maryland. Recipients of payable traffic citations – including speeding, running a red light, failure to display a registration or wear a seatbelt – are now required to schedule either a court date or a waiver trial if he or she does not pay the ticket. One of these three options must be met within 30 days of the violation.
"This is a major change in how we do business," says District Court of Maryland Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn, pointing to the shift in responsibility from the court to the people. "There has to be election on behalf of the people. They need to do something."
Motorists previously had a court date automatically scheduled if they failed to pay the ticket; and if the motorist failed to appear for the trial, a warrant was issued. Maryland House Bill 829, approved by Governor Martin O'Malley in May and enacted on January 1, 2011, changed the system for motorists and now the challenge is alerting the motorists of the change.
Over the last several months, the court asked various institutions concerned with the law – including the Maryland State Police (MSP) and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDTA) – to individually produce announcements for the public.
Radio ads aired on local stations. Websites were updated with notices. News releases were distributed. And brochures topped displays at police stations and other public areas. Now preparation is over.
Instructions and details of new requirements are included in the traffic ticket. And, according to Gregory Shipley, a MSP spokesman, troopers adjusted their statements to motorists for the new law.
is an overall benefit to everyone"
BEN C. CLYBURN
CHIEF JUDGE, DISTRICT COURT OF MD
Shipley says the MSP has done their best to get the message out, yet at the same time he understands some people will still claim to be unaware of the new law. Regardless, Shipley and Judge Clyburn both maintain the new requirements are necessary, will save money and trim court dockets.
"Our troopers spend a lot of time in court," Shipley says. Under the old regulations the charging officer had to appear at court dates. And too often the offender did not show.
In the "Fiscal and Policy Note" for HB 829, the MSP stated, "in over 50% of the cases scheduled for trial, the trooper was not needed because the violator did not appear." Anecdotal evidence was provided.
The MSP continued that under the new requirements, "at least $500,000 in general fund expenditure savings could occur annually." The savings includes a reduction in overtime hours awarded when officers appear in court.
During the legislative session the MDTA also projected a $24,000 annual savings under the new law. And it believes the law, "may reduce time spent in court and may also allow MDTA to recover some savings from the redirection of officer time to other duties." The MDTA says, "about 38,000 hours annually is spent in the District Court on traffic cases."
"This law is an overall benefit to everyone," says Judge Clyburn. "There is no dollar amount you can put on time, on having law enforcement on the street."
The Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention will incur, only for the fiscal year 2011, a $250,000 bump in federal fund expenditures to revise forms and computers to the new law.
State representatives voted the bill through legislation pretty swiftly. The House of Delegates, where the bill was first read, approved 140-1; the Senate passed it unanimously.
Under the new law, the violating motorist, upon receipt of the payable ticket, can select to pay the ticket, request a waiver hearing, or request a trial. Waiver hearings differ from a trial because the motorist pleads guilty and the charging officer is not present. The hearing's purpose is for the motorist to explain his or her actions before a District Court judge, and perhaps gain leniency.
A response to one of the options must be fulfilled within 30 days. Motorists can pay the ticket by mail, by phone, online at www.mdcourts.gov or in person at a Maryland District Courthouse. To request a waiver hearing or trial, motorists should mark accordingly on the ticket and mail it to the District Court location where the violation occurred.
If no response is received within 30 days, the Motor Vehicle Administration will mail a warning to the motorist's last filed address and may suspend the license.
The new law does not affect "Must Appear" violations, traffic violations that carry the possibility of incarceration. A trial is necessary for these offenses, which include driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.