Jan Brewer

Arizona Photo-Enforcement Notices Must Now State the Truth: Motorists Have No Duty to Respond or Identify Driver

Starting tomorrow, photo-enforcement-violation notices must finally state the truth about what's going on -- namely, that you don't need to respond or identify the driver in the picture.

Cities and, for a while, the state of Arizona, have for years employed something of a ruse to help get speeders and red-light runners caught by the machines to pay up. They sent an initial notice of violation that has no legal teeth, yet contained a passive threat that blowing off the notice might not be in the motorists' best interest.

A few years ago, we caught the city of Scottsdale lying blatantly in its notices, which it falsely called a "summons." The notice stated that those who didn't respond would be subject to fines, fees and driver's license suspension.

An Arizona Department of Public Safety notice of violation that we published two years ago shows the more-typical trick. Appearing below DPS insignia, the notice states simply that the motorist should fill out the form and sent it back by the "respond-by date." While the DPS freeway cameras were online, (that program ended last summer), thousands of people likely responded like sheep to those notices -- even though they didn't have to.

As numerous articles in New Times and elsewhere have pointed out, ignoring those notices only meant the possibility of a ticket being served at the offender's home by a process server. True, having a server come out meant an additional $25 added to the fine. But if the server never comes, or the motorist doesn't appear to be home when the server comes -- always a distinct possibility -- then the photo enforcement ticket becomes invalid.

Now, thanks to a bill that Governor Jan Brewer signed, notices of violation must confess that:

a) the notice is not a court issued document;

b) the recipient is under no obligation to identify the person or respond to the notice; and

c) failure to respond to the notice may result in official service that may result in an additionally levied fee.

Scottsdale and possibly other cities sometimes use a trick called "alternative service" to nab people they believe are dodging the process services. In that case, court motions are made by the prosecutor to have a ticket taped to the front door of a residence. The city reportedly has used alternative service frequently in the past, but it's probably still worth waiting it out.

Whether the ticket was personally served or was served through a valid "alternative service" motion, the motorist must then treat the citation as if it was issued by a cop in a traffic stop.

The new law also mandates that $13 of every ticket goes to the "GITEM" task force, which has a mission of "strict enforcement" of immigration and gang laws.

For those who oppose such "strict enforcement" of immigration laws, this could be yet another reason to ignore a photo enforcement notice.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.

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