12 Tips for Beating an Arizona Photo-Enforcement Ticket

It's still possible to beat a photo-enforcement ticket in Arizona.EXPAND
It's still possible to beat a photo-enforcement ticket in Arizona.
Ray Stern

Following two months in hibernation brought on by a state legal opinion, photo-enforcement cameras are active again in several Arizona cities.

That means it's a good time for a refresher course in beating the system.

Legal loopholes make it possible to escape punishment for a speed- or red-light-camera ticket. Thousands of people do it successfully every year after being flashed by cameras in Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, or other Arizona cities.

But to win, you need to know how the game is played.

Having researched the topic for years, New Times hereby offers — free of charge! — the following list of tips and tricks to avoid a photo-enforcement ticket. Just promise to drive safely, then read on ...

Tip 1: Ignoring a Notice of Violation Can Result in Your Case Being Dismissed
By law, after a ticket is filed in court, a municipality has 90 days to nail you. The first thing a city will do is to mail you a notice of violation, asking you to sign and return a waiver (along with, ideally, a check to cover your fine).

No muss, no fuss. But no teeth, either: You have no legal obligation to sign the waiver. That's because state law requires that a ticket must be delivered in person in order to stick.

If you don't sign the waiver, a process server might come to your home.

If the process server catches you at home, you'll pay $25 to $40 on top of the fine. But it's a decent wager to make. Because if you manage to dodge the server, the ticket will disappear from the system 90 days after it went in.

Tip 2: If No One's Home, No One Gets Served
"It's real simple," says Tom Zollars of Superior Process Services. "Don't answer your door."

Generally speaking, a process server can't leave the ticket at your door. Under Arizona law, a citation must be given to the defendant or a "person of suitable age" who lives at the home. (Courts have interpreted "suitable" as someone 14 or older.)

Translation: To improve the odds of success, roommates and family members must play along. If they open to the door to a server, it's game over.

12 Tips for Beating an Arizona Photo-Enforcement TicketEXPAND
Matt Trostle via Flickr

Tip 3: Make It Seem Like Nobody's Home — Ever
Process servers tend to go where they think they'll find their quarry. On the flip side, they may avoid returning to a residence that doesn't appear to provide a likely payoff.

So keep the car in the garage and shut the blinds.

This serves two purposes. One, it makes it look like no one's there. Two, it provides you with a cloak of invisibility. Because if a server sees you inside and recognizes you as the violator, you're done for, even if you don't answer the door. And servers usually have a copy of the violator's driver's license photo.

Video cameras and peepholes can be utilized to distinguish process servers from guests. And if the doorbell rings at an odd hour or on a holiday, take note: It could be the server.

(One caveat to bear in mind: Process servers don't only deliver tickets. They may bring important documents you actually need.)

12 Tips for Beating an Arizona Photo-Enforcement Ticket
Ray Stern

Tip 4: Beware of Scottsdale
In 2009, having caught on to the tactic outlined above, the City of Scottsdale fought back. If you blow off a violation notice in Scottsdale, the city will file a motion showing that a server attempted to deliver the ticket three times — in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, all on separate days. Once a judge grants the motion, the process server will tote the citation to your residence and tape it to the front door.

At that point, you've been legally served. Other cities only rarely resort to this practice.

Still, it's not a total deal breaker.

Last year the city used the tactic in about one-third of the cases in which it was necessary to send out a process server, says Darcy Nichols, Scottsdale's photo-enforcement program manager.

Though the remaining two-thirds of cases include violators who were successfully served as well as those who weren't, some cases do still fall through the cracks.

(The city's court staff was unable to say how many of the 43,000 citations Scottsdale issued in fiscal year 2015, which ended last June, wound up being dismissed owing to lack of process service.

Tip 5: Once in a While, a Process Server Might Cheat
How many kids in your fourth-grade class said they wanted to be a process server when they grew up? Process servers tend to get paid for each ticket they successfully deliver. Not to put too fine a point on it, but some may interpret this as an incentive to, shall we say, pad their stats.

You can challenge a bogus process service in court and, if you win, have the ticket thrown out.

In order to keep tabs, you can check the status of a ticket on the state's court site or the court site for the city that sent the notice of violation. If the site shows the ticket has been served but you know better, you should contact the court immediately. (Otherwise, your driver's license may be suspended.)

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