Many drivers across the Washington, D.C. Metro area have felt the financial bite of speed cameras. Now a Montgomery County activist says he’s found a way to get certain drivers in Maryland off-the-hook.
In June, Ron Ely received a speed camera citation after his 2011 Toyota Prius was caught buzzing down the 19600 block of Georgia Ave. in Olney. The silver eco-friendly car was clocked at 43 miles-per-hour in a 30 mile-per-hour zone, which resulted in a $40 citation.
“I got the ticket in the mail and I was like, ‘what, how can this be,'” Ely said, recalling the moment he opened the envelope from Montgomery County.
Ely, a self-professed speed camera activist who manages a blog called the Maryland Drivers Alliance, decided to fight back, requesting a trial in Montgomery County District Court. There he told a judge he wasn’t driving his car at the time of the speed violation. The judge however demanded Ely tell the court who was behind the wheel, which he refused to do.
“The court can’t demand that I incriminate someone else, when I wasn’t an actual witness to the thing they allegedly did. Furthermore, that portion of the statute was struck four years ago,” Ely stated with authority.
Ely’s referring to Maryland State Law §21–809, which state lawmakers amended in April 2009. Prior to the change, vehicle owners like Ely, were required to present the court with the “name, address, and, if possible, the driver’s license identification number of the person who was operating the vehicle at the time of the violation.” That stipulation however, is no longer on the books in the Free State.
“The only thing the court is supposed to be deciding on any given day, is the guilt or innocence of the person standing in front of them. If I had been found guilty, there would be an online court record with my name on it, and it would have the word ‘guilty’ written on it,” Ely remarked.
Exercising his right to an appeal, Ely took his case across W. Jefferson St. in Rockville, to the Montgomery County Circuit Court. On Nov. 26, a contentious trial, which lasted for more than an hour, got underway. In one corner, the Gaithersburg resident, and in the other, Montgomery County Attorney Dave Stevenson.
“The county doesn’t care who’s held responsible for these tickets, just so as long as somebody pays the fine,” Ely suggested.
In addition to harping on the 2009 amendment, which fell on deaf ears in District Court, Ely says he exposed a loophole for other drivers who may one day stand in his shoes.
“I had two attorneys look at this paperwork, and to them the meaning of the law is completely unambiguous when you read it,” Ely added. “It’s very clear.”
According to Maryland State Law §21–809, a vehicle owner, whose car is being driven by another party when cited for speeding, can evade a ticket by taking two steps.
1.) “A person named in the citation shall provide to the District Court a letter, sworn to or affirmed by the person and mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested, that states that the person named in the citation was not operating the vehicle at the time of the violation.”
2.) The law also suggests that vehicle owner, “include any other corroborating evidence.”
For example, Ely provided the court with time-stamped online chat conversations he had with Dell technical support, at the very moment the incriminating photograph was taken on May 18.
His defense proved effective, and very well may have set a statewide precedent, when Circuit Court Judge John Debelius III overturned his $40 citation. Judge Debelius III also acknowledged the law’s 2009 amendment, by not requiring Ely identify who was driving the Toyota Prius on the day of the violation.
“Well it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free-card, but rather another avenue of defense for people who want to dispute these tickets. My hope is that people, who are genuinely innocent, will take advantage of this, and that they’ll stand up for themselves like I did,” Ely concluded.