PHOENIX — Saying motorists stopped for traffic violations are being coerced to give up their due-process rights, the Republican-controlled House voted to let them take their case to court and yet still escape the ticket even if they’re found guilty.
HB 2005, approved on a 31-29 party-line vote Monday, would repeal existing law that give drivers who are cited an up-front choice: challenge the summons in court or opt to take a defensive driving course.
Completing that latter option wipes out the ticket. More to the point, it does not add points to a motorist’s license and the offense is not reported to the driver’s insurance company, which then could use the information to raise premiums.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that amounts to coercion, forcing people who believe they violated no laws to give up their right to a hearing.
So his legislation would say drivers could take their chances in court.
If a judge doesn’t believe them, defensive driving school — and the no points and no insurance implications — remains an option. And existing Arizona law allows motorists to wipe out one citation every 12 months.
The measure drew criticism from Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale.
He said city and justice courts already are flooded and overworked. And Andrade said encouraging people to fight a ticket, knowing they have nothing to lose, also means more overtime costs for police officers who have to show up in court to justify each citation they have issued.
Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, questioned the motivation behind what Kavanagh wants to do.
“Are we claiming that officers are not doing their job when they follow process and procedures?” she asked. “Are law enforcement officers coercing innocent people when they are pulled over for speeding or violating a traffic law of some kind?”
Kavanagh said that’s not his point, saying it’s “the system” that coerces people.
“The system is stacked so that you can get away totally scot free if you basically pay the fees and the cost of the driving school course,” he said.
“But to do that you have to give up your right to due process, you have to give up your right to confront your accuser before a judge and have your guilt or innocence decided,” Kavanagh said. “You take the easy way out and justice suffers.”
Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, said the measure is bad public policy.
“This bill is an attempt to allow people to avoid personal responsibility for their bad driving conduct,” he said. And Espinoza, who is a defense attorney, said it amounts to telling people “you’re going to get another bite at the apple.”
“That sends the wrong message,” he said. “It doesn’t deter them and will will not promote respect for the law.”
Kavanagh, however, compared the current system to the common practice in criminal court of plea bargaining, saying innocent people take the deals rather than risk being found guilty and being sent to prison for much longer terms.
And Kavanagh dismissed the additional burden on police having to show up in court.
“That’s part of the job,” he said. “It’s your duty to go to court and justify your charges.”