Skip court, lose your license
Law change means no more free passes for Benning speeders
Staff Writer

Getting a speeding ticket on Fort Benning used to be great. Don't show up for court and nothing happened to you.

A strict interpretation of a preposition in a state law is what made pushing the gas pedal on federal property, then ignoring the court appearance, a no-brainer in the past. Recent changes to that law, however, means your license will get revoked if you fail to appear in U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Mallon Faircloth's court.

"We discovered that the state of Georgia would not honor our reports of failure to respond to summons on traffic violations, everything from DUI to speeding," Faircloth said. "As a result, people who didn't come to court got the feeling that nothing could be done to them -- and they were right."

As of July 1, that's no longer the case. The Georgia General Assembly amended the law concerning license revocation, making an absence in U.S. Magistrate Court an offense punished by losing your license. Faircloth recently received a memorandum from the Georgia Attorney General's office about the change.

The law once stated, in part, that the state would "suspend the driver's license or privilege to operate a motor vehicle in this state of any person who failed to respond to a citation to appear before a court of competent jurisdiction of this state or of any other state ."

Because traffic violators on federal property such as Fort Benning went to U.S. Magistrate Court, and it wasn't considered a court "of this state" under a strict interpretation, not showing up when summoned meant you kept your license.

First test is Sept. 15

"It has been a problem in the entire state," Faircloth said. "It's not just here. It's everywhere."

Changing the "of" to "in" means speeders -- whether they're in Columbus, Fort Benning or a federal park -- must show up in court if they want to keep driving.

Faircloth noticed a trend in violators not showing up for court as more troops were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2006, it had become common knowledge that a no-show would mean nothing. Faircloth said some 50 people ignored their court date each month.

About one year ago, Faircloth and U. S. Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith began working with the state on fixing the problem in the law. The General Assembly changed the law, and it appears the problem has been solved.

Local traffic violators will find out for themselves on Sept. 15 -- the first traffic session Faircloth's had since the law went into effect.

"They need to know that something will be done," Faircloth said.