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Speeding tix trend upward

January 26, 2011
Most people hate speeding tickets, but they may not hate them bad enough to stop driving too fast on the nation's highways and interstates.

The number of speeding tickets Crawford County has to process has trended upward, reaching a point now where the steps that must be followed to process each ticket is creating a huge workload on those who deal with them.

Traffic tickets are issued not only by state police troopers, but also by county police officers, town marshals and even conservation officers who often write traffic tickets inside state parks and recreation areas. But once those tickets are written, they follow a long path with many stops before being paid and sent to the state.

When an officer issues a traffic ticket, a copy is sent to the county prosecutor's office.

"Once we get the ticket, our deputy prosecutor signs them and we log the tickets on a sheet," said Hillary Satterfield, who works in the Crawford County Prosecutor's Office. "Then, we send them on to the clerk's office, where they are processed and recorded."

In Crawford County, the person who does that is Debbie Montgomery. She fills out a jacket (envelope) with the date of the ticket, the name of the person ticketed, what the ticket is for and the officer's name who wrote it. The ticket is also assigned a court date, although few actually end up in court, and is added to a court calendar then listed in an infraction book. The ticket then is put in an index of all tickets and written in a record book.

"When a person comes in to pay their ticket, they have to bring cash, a money order or certified check," Montgomery said. "Then, I write them a receipt. If they pay by mail, they have to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope, if they want a receipt. After it's paid, I mark the payment in the infraction book, then mark it as paid in the calendar book. Then, I enter all the information about the ticket and payment in the computer for the state. We deposit the money into an account, and it is sent to the state periodically."

If payment is not received, the ticket is sent on to the circuit court judge, who reviews it and adds it to a report he has to maintain for the state. It is then sent back to the prosecutor's office and filed. Each ticket goes through at least eight steps before being completely settled.

"A person can ask for a deferral," Satterfield said. "That is, if they pay the $191.50 deferral fee and meet the criteria, the ticket can be dismissed after six months. But eligibility depends on their past driving record and age, and they will probably have to attend a driving school."

There was a time when traffic tickets weren't such a workload on county courthouses, but those days are long gone due to increased focus on ticket writing by police officers.

In 2003, there were 1,136 traffic tickets handled by the Crawford County courthouse. In 2004, that amount increased to 1,325 tickets. The number of tickets dropped a little the following year, to 1,271, then to 986 in 2006. But by 2007, the numbers began to climb again. There were 1,220 tickets processed in 2007, but those numbers increased to 3,164 in 2008, and then even higher, to 4,101 tickets, in 2009, a number that has caused the prosecutor's office, the clerk's office and even the judge's office to struggle to find the time to deal with the increase.

A typical speeding ticket, where a driver is going 10 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, now costs the offender a fine of $124.50. There are several hands out waiting to split the money up. Of the $124.50, $49 goes to the state and $18.90 goes to county court costs. An additional $10 goes to infraction judgment and $2.10 goes to city and county fines. Another $2 goes to jury fees, $2 to the Clerk's Perpetration Fund and $3 goes to Public Defense Administration fees. About $1.50 goes to Highway Work Zone fees, $4 to County User fee and $1 to the Judicial Insurance Adjustment fee. There is another $18 that goes to the Judicial Salary fees, $2 for DNA Sample Processing fees, $5 court administration fees and $7 for record keeping fees.

There are also late fees and renewal fees that can add to the amount of a ticket.

Police officers are reluctant to discuss a ticket quota, but one officer who asked not to be identified indicated that most officers would probably like spending more time solving and preventing crime than writing tickets.

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