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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Speedy Drivers Lose|Equal Protection Claim

(CN) - A federal judge in Washington, D.C., tossed a class action accusing the city of doling out harsher penalties for speeding drivers stopped by police than for speeders caught on traffic enforcement cameras. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the two groups "are not similarly situated."

Lead plaintiffs Henry Dixon and Cuong Thanh Phung argued that when police stop drivers for speeding more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, the drivers face automatic arrest, criminal prosecution, a $300 fine and prison time. But when speeders' cars are photographed by the District of Columbia's traffic enforcement cameras, the maximum penalty is a fine.

Dixon and Phung claimed this disparate treatment violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

But Judge Leon said the groups were not similarly situated, and the plaintiffs' complaint "overlooks this fundamental difference."

He pointed out that police can't arrest someone without a warrant unless the officer actually witnesses the offense or has probable cause to believe a crime was committed.

"Like other drivers who are seen by an officer driving at speeds more than 30 mph over the speed limit, plaintiffs can be arrested within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment, as the arresting officer has probable cause to believe that the driver committed a crime," Leon wrote.

"By contrast, when a vehicle is photographed for traveling 30 mph over the speed limit, there is no probable cause to believe that the owner of that vehicle was driving and therefore committed a crime, because there is no additional evidence that the owner was in fact the driver" (emphasis in original).

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