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Toss Your Virginia Red-Light Camera Ticket?

Posted on July 7th, 2009 in , | 12 Comments

Toss Your Virginia Red Light Camera Ticket?
The Washington Post had an interesting editorial last week that mentioned a little-known aspect of the red-light camera program in Alexandria, Virginia:

As The Washington Times reported four years ago, state law says a private company may not simply drop a ticket in a mailbox and expect it to be considered valid service. Unless a driver receives a hand-delivered copy, the citation can be thrown away without consequence. Depriving Alexandria and its revenue-collecting partner of cash is the surest way to ensure this unsafe program disappears for good.

The Washington Times article was referring to the previous red-light camera statute which expired when the red-light camera program sunsetted in 2005 after a report showed that they had a negative impact on driver safety.

Fortunately for motorists, the new statute instituted in 2007 contains very similar language. Here’s the code requiring personal service of red-light camera tickets (emphasis added):

15.2-968.1. Use of photo-monitoring systems to enforce traffic light signals.

G. A summons for a violation of this section may be executed pursuant to 19.2-76.2. Notwithstanding the provisions of 19.2-76, a summons for a violation of this section may be executed by mailing by first class mail a copy thereof to the owner, lessee, or renter of the vehicle. In the case of a vehicle owner, the copy shall be mailed to the address contained in the records of the Department of Motor Vehicles; in the case of a vehicle lessee or renter, the copy shall be mailed to the address contained in the records of the lessor or renter. Every such mailing shall include, in addition to the summons, a notice of (i) the summoned person’s ability to rebut the presumption that he was the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation through the filing of an affidavit as provided in subsection D and (ii) instructions for filing such affidavit, including the address to which the affidavit is to be sent. If the summoned person fails to appear on the date of return set out in the summons mailed pursuant to this section, the summons shall be executed in the manner set out in 19.2-76.3. No proceedings for contempt or arrest of a person summoned by mailing shall be instituted for failure to appear on the return date of the summons. Any summons executed for a violation of this section shall provide to the person summoned at least 60 business days from the mailing of the summons to inspect information collected by a traffic light signal violation monitoring system in connection with the violation.

Here’s the code for 19.2-76.3 referenced above:

19.2-76.3. Failure to appear on return date for summons issued under 19.2-76.2.

A. If any person fails to appear on the date of the return contained in the summons issued in accordance with 19.2-76.2, then a summons shall be delivered to the sheriff of the county, city or town for service on that person as set out in 8.01-296.

B. If such person then fails to appear on the date of return as contained in the summons so issued, a summons shall be executed in the manner set out in 19.2-76.

C. No proceedings for contempt or arrest of any person summoned under the provisions of this section shall be instituted unless such person has been personally served with a summons and has failed to appear on the return date contained therein.

Essentially it’s saying that they can attempt to mail you a ticket, but if that doesn’t work they have to hand-deliver it in order for the ticket to be valid.

This excerpt from the 2005 final report on Virginia’s ticket camera program sums it up pretty nicely (note that this is in reference to the previous ticket camera statute — emphasis added):

Thus, under Virginia’s red light camera statute as it is now worded, the mere mailing of a citation without personal service by a law enforcement officer does not constitute sufficient notice under the statute’s own terms. While the statute permits the jurisdiction to make the initial attempt to summon the accused to court via mail, if that person fails to respond, he or she is not considered to have been satisfactorily served with notice. Default judgments entered under such circumstances (when the defendant fails to appear in court on the appointed return date) would thus not be binding, and the defendant could not be charged with contempt for failing to comply with such a judgment. Hence, despite its ostensive distancing from the requirements of Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-76, Virginia’s red light camera statute comes full circle and, in the end, requires personal service before a default judgment may be entered against no-shows.

Personal service on all violators is obviously an expensive proposition, involving many staff hours of time, and would defeat one of the primary motivating factors for employing automated detection systems in the first place: a reduction in the number of live officers required to enforce red light laws. (Even the “nail and mail” approach would involve more time, money, and effort than some people would view as warranted relative to the nature of the offense.) Thus, unless a jurisdiction is willing to devote resources to implementing extensive in-hand service, citations mailed for red light camera violations become essentially unenforceable. The average citizen is probably not aware of this loophole, but if word got out on a widespread basis, such knowledge could completely undermine the effectiveness of entire red light camera programs, as citations issued to violators would lose their practical impact.



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12 Responses to “Toss Your Virginia Red-Light Camera Ticket?”

  1. tossifuwant says:

    While it is true that you can toss your ticket without fear of facing arrest or proceedings for contempt of court, it does not mean that collections will not be filed against you. This is viewed as a civil matter and has nothing to do with your driver's license or DMV or your insurance. Think of it just like a phone bill you didn't pay – they file collections against you, nothing criminal or having to do with your license. And just like with a collections set against you from a phone company, it is your obligation to appear – otherwise the collection stands. While it is also true that § 19.2-76.3. states that "If any person fails to appear on the date of the return contained in the summons issued in accordance with § 19.2-76.2, then a summons shall be delivered to the sheriff of the county, city or town for service on that person as set out in § 8.01-296.", there are loopholes set out in § 8.01-296 that allow the mailing of the summons to be sufficient. You could possibly hire a lawyer and argue the loopholes, but that will cost you a lot more than the original $50 fine. I think your best bet is to request a court hearing and plead your case with the judge – you never know, he/she may use discretion and dismiss your case, or the plaintiff may not show which would result in a dismissal. Bottom line, if you don't mind a collections on your credit report then toss away, if you do however then you should probably answer to the charge.

  2. majstoll1 says:

    See related blog on this at http://757hamptonroads.com/2010/08/23/chesapeakes

    Further, the 2005 VDOT red light camera report confirms that you can throw away your mail-order red light camera tickets and not face arrest or proceedings for contempt fo court unless you are PERSONALLY served:

    See http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/05-vdot.pdf for full 2005 RLC VDOT report.

    As the 2005 RLC VDOT report states in Appendix H: Virginia’s red light camera law “ultimately requires a personal notification, which may prove prohibitively expensive for some jurisdictions.”

    the only way to slow down growth of RLC installations in Virginia is to scare localities with the potential for budget problems should they put these cameras up – if everyone knows they can blow off the mail order tickets as well as tickets tacked to their door or handed to their spouse at the house, then the profit potential for RLCs goes down.

    Let's roll!

  3. [...] to pay your ticket just because a ticket came in the mail. I discovered this recently in a Virginia Motorists Association article from 2009. Their article was commenting on an editorial at the time in the Washington Post. Basically, they [...]

  4. Randy says:

    VTEC I feel sorry for you for feeling you can not follow any laws. Too bad you are incapable of stopping at a stop light. I feel sorry for the state that you drive in.

  5. VTEC power says:

    My sympathy to Virginians. I’ve avoided this by boycotting the state entirely over the banning of radar dectectors and the ‘civil remedial fees.’ A shame too, as it is a lovely place full of nice people but it’s just too much trouble and I disagree that these are valid things for govenment to be doing anyway. It is possible for citizens to take back their state, however. It just requires electing people who will take a stand and stop the nonsense. Good luck and best wishes.

  6. A voter referendum to ban red-light cameras is advancing to the ballot in College Station, Texas. Rally to be held July 16. http://legal-beagle.typepad.com/wrights_legal_beagle/2009/07/surveillance-technology-changes-law-enforcement.html –Ben

  7. Different View says:

    I am not a lawyer but in reading this information posted I don’t agree with the comment “Essentially it’s saying that they can attempt to mail you a ticket, but if that doesn’t work they have to hand-deliver it in order for the ticket to be valid.”

    What I read is that the summons is valid but “No proceedings for contempt or arrest of a person summoned by mailing shall be instituted for failure to appear on the return date of the summons.”

    So they can’t hold you in contempt or arrest you but that doesn’t mean they can’t tack on late fees and flag your vehicle registration with the DMV like they do in other states. I think it is a lot smarter to avoid the problem initially then it is to plan to try to get out of it afterwards.

    • majstoll1 says:

      Not true – please see Va. Code Section 15.2-968.1 – no penalty allowed other than $50 fine – see para F – no impact on driver record at all nor is chanrge against or conviction of the vehicle owner even considered as pertaining to the operator of the vehicle at all – no points, no problems with your registration

  8. JJ says:

    Just say you never received the ticket in the mail.

    • JJ's twin sister says:

      JJ, are you a moron? I guess you also buy statements from murderers and rapists when they say “I didn’t do it”.

  9. Jim Collins says:

    So what happens when they suspend your driver's license because you didn't pay the ticket, that you got in the mail.

    • majstoll1 says:

      Not true – see Va code section 15.2-968.1 – RLC tickets have nothing to do with your operator record nor can they be used to suspend your driver's license or your vehicle registration.




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