CAMERA TICKETS: Plead Your Case Or Pay Up

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“I wasn’t paying attention and had the police officer come up behind me and of course pulled over,” says Kris Olds.

Olds got a ticket for doing more than 70 on Interstate 235.  The same day an officer clocked her speeding, so did the city of Des Moines' traffic camera.  Her second reminder to slow down arrived by mail.  Two tickets for the same mistake cost her close to $200.

“I just wrote it off to an expensive lesson,” says Olds.

Garrett Carver isn’t paying without a fight.  He came to City Hall to plead his case at an Administrative Hearing.  The speed camera on 235 caught him in the act not once, but three times.   Carver just moved to the metro, so his tickets were mailed out-of-state.  He says he didn’t know that he'd been caught speeding for several weeks and argued it was a costly delay.

“Had I known that I got the first ticket, I wouldn’t have got the second ticket and I haven’t got one since,” says Carver.

At his appeals hearing, Administrative Officer Cassandra Webster decided to give him a break.

“I’m going to find you liable for one and not for the other as a courtesy for you,” says Webster.

“One is better than none.  Two would have been great.  Guess I’ll just have to make sure I don`t get anymore,” says Carver.

Not all drivers are as lucky.  Reggie Cartee lost his appeal in Fort Dodge and decided to take his case to Webster County Magistrate Court.

“It says I was doing 49 in a 35 and there’s no way,” he says.

Impossible, Cartee says, because he passed the mobile speed camera right before turning into work.  A turn he says can’t be made at his ticketed speed of 49 miles per hour..  Cartee claims the machine malfunctioned, similar to what has happened in the past as documented in the Fort Dodge Messenger.

“I had no reason to lie.  I had no reason to speed,” says Cartee.

But he found himself fighting a losing battle.  The Illinois-based manufacturer argued its cameras are properly maintained and calibrated.  The judge agreed ordering Cartee to pay his $75-dollar fine plus court costs, not to mention his attorney.

“It’s kind of a cash cow and now they’ve made a sacred cow,” he says.

Despite the difficulty, drivers can still try to get out of their tickets.

“If you have any type of case to make, by all means you should go through the process.   That’s your right and you should do that,” says Des Moines Police Sgt. Jason Halifax.

In the last eight months, drivers contested 340 traffic camera tickets in Des Moines.  Less than a third, or 102, succeeded.  Here are the four things that will get your ticket dismissed every time:  A police officer writes you a ticket for the same violation, you can prove that your car or license plates were stolen,  your ticket was issued during a funeral procession, or the camera caught you speeding or running a red trying give the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle.

Instead of fighting tickets, some drivers simply refuse to pay.   That’s when the city Finance Department steps in to collect.

“We've had a lot of success with being able to collect funds owed to the city through the state Income Offset Program,” says Des Moines Finance Director Scott Sanders

That's where the state of Iowa gets involved.  The program forces drivers to either pay their fine or have that money taken out of their tax returns.  The city has turned over 4,500 unpaid red light and speed tickets to the state.   There’s a different collection method for drivers who don’t live in Iowa.

“We have 1,500 that are out of state that are going through traditional collections processes.  Admittedly, the traditional collections is a difficult process so with that, I have less expectations,” says Sanders.

It’s all part of the deterrence for not speeding and not breaking the law.

“If it’s a deterrent, I’ve been deterred,” says Olds.

Others choose to appeal even all the way to court.

“Of course, that`s the American way.  You got to fight against injustice,” says Cartee.

Clive Police Chief Mike Venema says the appeal and collection processes are similar for the city’s red light traffic camera. Drivers who don’t pay their fines are first turned over to a collections agency.  After that, the city of Clive turns the unpaid tickets to the state Income Offset Program.