If Your Red-Light Camera Ticket Is Filed Late, Do You Still Have to Pay It?

If you’re guilty as sin, can a trivial bureaucratic snafu mean you won’t face the consequences of your reckless, puppy-endangering actions?

You stated in your [Dec. 9] article that "Oregon Law requires the camera operator to put tickets in the mail within six days." The date of offense for my red-light ticket was Nov. 21, and the postmark was Dec. 7—11 working days. Do I have a case?

—Sandi P.

I think what you're saying, Sandi, is that you're guilty as sin, but you're hoping that a trivial bureaucratic snafu means you won't face the consequences of your reckless, puppy-endangering actions.

Well, lucky you—you might be right. As Justice removes her blindfold to shed a single, tiny tear, let's explore your options.

First, the bad news: My previous column slightly oversimplified the case. The time limit on photo radar (i.e., speeding) tickets is, indeed, six days. However, the figure for red-light-camera tickets is 10 days. That means the state really only blew its deadline by a day, which is not all that egregious.

That said, when regular people miss government deadlines by one day, government routinely tells them to get lost, so no mercy.

I polled several lawyers, and the common threads that emerged were "there are no guarantees" and "it depends on the judge." Still, most agreed that the state's failure to meet the conditions spelled out in ORS 810.436 (1)(d) could be grounds for dismissal.

I am not a lawyer (some would say I'm not even a journalist), and this is not legal advice. That said, according to Portland lawyer Bear Wilner-Nugent, if you want to contest a ticket, "[You] should be prepared to plead not guilty, post bail and request a hearing."

Once you're there, you can politely point out the discrepancy and request a dismissal. "You can use plain language, but you better cite the right statute," Wilner-Nugent says.

I recommend looking up that statute yourself, perhaps even printing a copy. Whatever you do, don't just take the word of some a-hole in the newspaper.

QUESTIONS? Send them to drknow@wweek.com.