Ideally, police pull someone over when they are driving dangerously or otherwise breaking the law. In the case of reckless driving, this is to help protect everyone else from a possible accident and deter the driver from doing it in the future. We know this. It is no secret that it happens, and statistically, it will probably happen to most drivers on the road. What is a secret, however – or rather, what they wish was a secret – is just what drives officers to pull over those of us who really did not seem to do anything wrong at all.
It is not a secret that cities collect revenue from fines and tickets, but just how much is surprising. Right here in Maryland, the city of Seat Pleasant makes half of their budget on traffic fines alone, and they are definitely not the only ones. Traffic tickets are essentially an easy way for towns and cities to make easy money, regardless of who pays the literal price.
Why is this happening? And, if you experience it yourself, what can you do to protect yourself from paying for fines you do not deserve to pay?
Revenue collected by traffic stops encourages more traffic stops
Quotas – an unspoken “rule” requiring officers to write a certain number of tickets a day – are not supposed to exist. Most states have outlawed them, including Maryland. Most law enforcement agencies denied they ever existed, dismissing them as a conspiracy because every traffic stop is based on fair and just cause. Despite the constant insistence that quotas do not exist, the New York Times reports that “at least 20 states evaluate their officers’ performance based on how many traffic stops they have an hour.”
But performance is not the only reason why these tickets are written. In many cities across the country, ticket revenue helps fund the government and police departments. Per the Times:
Many municipalities across the country rely heavily on ticket revenue and court fees to pay for government services, and some maintain outsize police departments to help generate that money, according to a review of hundreds of municipal audit reports, town budgets, court files and state highway records.
This is, for the most part, not a big-city phenomenon. While Chicago stands out as a large city with a history of collecting millions from motorists, the towns that depend most on such revenue have fewer than 30,000 people. Over 730 municipalities rely on fines and fees for at least 10 percent of their revenue, enough to pay for an entire police force in some small communities, an analysis of census data shows.
Why many traffic stops are unjust
Aside from the money and the performance metrics, there is another insidious reason why quote-driven traffic stops are problematic. Under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, you are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. If you are pulled over for an air freshener, you could end up being charged with a host of other violations if the officer feels there is probable cause to search your vehicle. In some cases, this search can be deemed illegal, and we do our best to have any “evidence” procured during an illegal stop suppressed if you end up being charged with a crime. (Note: the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in 2020 that the odor of marijuana is not probable cause for a search, but exceptions can be made if an officer smells it in your vehicle.)
What charges can I face for a traffic stop?
Traffic stops can lead to a litany of charges: some minor, and some major. For example, if you are stopped for an obstructed windshield, you face a $70 fine and will get a point on your license. If you cause an accident, the fines and points increase to $100 and 3, respectively. Still, neither of these will give you a criminal record.
Other stops, however, can lead to jail time and excessive fines. If you are pulled over for driving under the influence (DUI), you face a misdemeanor charge, up to a year in jail and/or up to $1000 in fines. If someone is injured in DUI-related crash, however, you could be charged with a felony crime. Felony convictions can lead to thousands of dollars in fines, prison sentences, and additional fees and costs.
You may have to deal with social consequences as well. It is not uncommon for people convicted of crimes seen as immoral to lose their jobs, their relationships, or even their homes, regardless of their side of the story. A felony conviction can cost you your professional license, your right to carry a firearm, and your security clearance. It can also make you ineligible to apply for financial aid for school. Felonies are not expungable, so they remain on your record forever.
Do I need a lawyer if I am facing charges from a traffic stop in Maryland?
Legally, you are never required to hire an attorney, but even a “routine” traffic stop can lead to long-term consequences. Therefore, it is best to avoid being convicted of anything at all, misdemeanor or not. This is why you want to hire an aggressive criminal defense attorney from Carey Law Office to help build and plead your case. You deserve a lawyer who will fight for your rights. You are not responsible for filling the pockets of the city or helping any officer get a promotion, and we work vigorously to have tickets and charges dropped when there was undue cause for your stop.
At Carey Law Office, our experienced Bowie and Crofton criminal defense attorneys have decades’ worth of counsel and assistance to share with you. We know what the court is looking for and we value your justice and freedom like it’s our own. If you are facing any sort of charge after a traffic stop, do not wait to reach out and start building your defense with attorneys you can trust. Call us today at 301-464-2500 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Bowie, Crofton, or Owings.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More