By PATRICK COURREGES
Advocate Acadiana bureau
Published: Apr 25, 2007 - Page: 1ba
The New Iberia city prosecutor’s office has a long-standing rule about not pursuing speeding tickets written for less than 10 mph over the limit, but the Iberia Parish sheriff has said that won’t stop deputies from pursuing speeders in the city.
The 10-mph policy became public at an April 17 meeting of the City Council, when Sheriff’s Department Capt. Joey Sturm mentioned it during a response to what he and Sheriff Sid Hebert have said was an unfair representation at a previous council meeting of the department’s efforts.
At the April 17 meeting, Sturm said in particular that the Sheriff’s Department has responded to concerns about speeding in certain areas of the city with both suggestions for possible traffic engineering solutions and with radar-equipped deputy patrols in speeding hot spots.
He said that, in the case of using radar in writing speeding tickets, the department had been informed by City Prosecutor Anne Stevens that her office has an “unwritten rule” that tickets written for less than 10 mph over the limit would not be acted upon.
In response to a public records request by The Advocate, the Sheriff’s Department released a copy of the original e-mail from Stevens to a deputy under the subject line “fyi.”
The e-mail reads, in its entirety, “Just so you’ll know, there is an unwritten rule here at City Court that tickets under 10 mph are not accepted.”
Sturm said at the meeting that the directive the department read into the message was not to write tickets for speeds less than 10 mph over the limit.
In a later interview, he said that deputies had been writing tickets for less than 10 mph over the limit.
“I was unaware of any unwritten rule,” Sturm said.
He said that drivers who know that they are safe from prosecution up to 10 mph an hour above the limit might be less likely to monitor their speed.
“If there’s not consequence to me, then the logical conclusion is that it’s OK to drive that speed,” Sturm said of the possible drivers’ mindset.
Stevens said in an interview that the 10-mph policy has been a longstanding policy, dating well past her 18 years as city prosecutor, and one that the now-disbanded New Iberia Police Department knew of and understood.
“That policy is over 26 years old,” she said. “This accounts for people who are really not intending to speed.”
Stevens said the policy is a sound one based on both fairness to drivers and sound financial policy for the city.
“It works out to the benefit of all,” she said.
Stevens said that drivers who might have a malfunctioning or poorly calibrated speedometer or oversized tires might be driving a few miles over the limit without knowing it.
“When you’re going 10 mph over the speed limit, you generally know that you are speeding,” Stevens said. “At that level, people do not dispute the radar.”
She said that fewer disputes over tickets means less cost to the city for such things as having to pay legal experts to certify the radar equipment used in the original citation.
Stevens said people simply do not dispute tickets when the cited speed is more than 10 mph.
She also said that disregarding tickets for less than 10 mph over the limit likely has little impact on the effort to control speeding in the city.
“It’s been my experience in 18 years in this job, if you want to write a speeding ticket in New Iberia, you can write speeding tickets all day,” Stevens said. “The 10-mph thing is a drop in the bucket.”
She said that a case in point is the 99 tickets Sturm said the Sheriff’s Department has written on Daspit Road in the first quarter of 2007.
Stevens said only six of those were written for less than 10 mph over the limit.
Hebert said that, just as his deputies have discretion in whether to ticket, depending on specific situations, so too does the city prosecutor have discretion.
“I believe the court system has the right to make judgments on what it wants to prosecute,” he said.
Sturm said that, policy or no policy, deputies will continue to write tickets for motorists detected driving above the legal limit.
“We’ll continue to enforce state law as is,” he said.