Refund process for speeding tickets begins

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 8:54 AM EDT

The court is undoing speeding tickets written on Lenawee Hills Highway when an incorrect speed limit was posted.

By Dennis Pelham

Daily Telegram Staff Writer

ADRIAN — The process of undoing speeding tickets written on Lenawee Hills Highway while an incorrect 35 mph speed limit was posted in a 45 mph zone is finally in gear.

Two months after the speed limit error was discovered, Lenawee County District Court officials have crafted a method of reversing the complex machinery for processing tickets and distributing fines and costs to state, county and local governments.

“This has proved to be a fascinating experience in administration,” said Lenawee County District Judge James E. Sheridan. Agreements have been reached with all the government agencies that received ticket revenue so refunds can be made, he said

Ticketed drivers have been given instructions for filing court motions that will be reviewed by police, prosecutors and judges before any refunds or changes in driving records are authorized.

Changing the speed limit signs was a simple matter of bolting new ones to the posts. But undoing a large number of speeding tickets the signs caused has turned out to be incredibly complicated, Sheridan said. No court in Michigan has ever reviewed and corrected speeding tickets on this scale, he said.

The wrong speed signs were posted on the half-mile road in Adrian Township since 1965, when a 45 mph limit was authorized.

The error was discovered in June when a Hudson woman contesting her speeding ticket asked to see the traffic control order for Lenawee Hills Highway. The court dismissed her ticket for driving 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. And Sheridan announced district court would do what it could to correct any other improper tickets issued over the years.

By the end of last week, about 175 drivers were claiming refunds and asking for corrected driving records.

“We’ve got to follow the rules,” Sheridan said. “What we’re going to be doing is making it as simple as possible for the defendant and as easy as possible for whoever is going to be prosecuting it,” Sheridan said.

Everyone who claimed receiving an improper ticket on Lenawee Hills Highway has been contacted by court administrator Mark Fetzer, who explained the process. The first step is to stop by the court with a copy of the speeding ticket and to fill out a preprinted motion form that asks for the ticket to be vacated.

Technically, speeding tickets are civil infractions that are similar to civil lawsuits, Sheridan explained. The court is required to follow the Michigan Rules of Civil Procedure in handling each speeding ticket case from Lenawee Hills Highway.

A motion form was written and printed since most people do not have the training or experience to write their own, Sheridan said. Drivers simply have to fill in their names, the date and number of the ticket and sign the form.

Court rules require that all parties be notified and given an opportunity to be heard if a change is proposed to the prior outcome of the case.

That means, Lenawee County sheriff’s deputes and Adrian Township police who wrote the tickets will have a chance to review their records and dispute the motion. Sheridan said it is common for police to give drivers a break on speeding tickets. A driver might be ticketed for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone, for example, while radar actually recorded a 56 mph speed. The officer has the option of amending the ticket to the actual radar speed if the case is reopened, Sheridan said.

If changes are made, he said, the driver might still be guilty of driving 10 mph over the speed limit. Or the infraction may end up being fewer miles per hour over the speed limit than charged in the ticket, meaning a partial refund would be authorized and some points may be taken off the driver’s record.

Court hearings will be scheduled for cases that become as complicated as that, he said.

Fetzer said three drivers who were caught going as fast as 70 mph have already withdrawn their claims, saying they deserved the tickets they received.

Tickets where police do not claim a violation of the 45 mph speed limit should be handled entirely by mail after the driver fills out and files the motion to set aside or amend a civil infraction.