CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Let's say you do get a ticket in the mail from an incident two or three weeks before involving one of Cedar Rapids ten traffic cameras. We'll see you were driving 68 MPH along I-380 at Diagonal Drive, where the speed limit is 55 (a common ticket).
If you want to contest, you are instructed to get in touch with the Cedar Rapids Police Department to schedule a hearing.
Our cameras were allowed inside these hearings, on select Thursdays starting at 6 p.m. We met with Melissa Jensen, a volunteer who serves as the judge and jury for the appealers. She has the images and even video evidence at her disposal.
The appointments are set up for every ten minutes, from 6 p.m. to as late as 9 or 9:30.
Jensen first sits down with a couple who does want to be identified. They bring three speeding citations with them, claiming one of their children is responsible for two of them. After listening to the man and woman for five minutes, Jensen keeps the first speeding citation, dismisses the second on the grounds that the first ticket had not yet arrived in the mail. A third citation is upheld as Jensen said the driver, going 16 over the speed limit, is still responsible.
This pattern continues throughout the night. Jensen clearly works to be reasonable with the appealers. She dismisses a red-light violation after a driver brought in proof the brakes were not functioning properly and the video showed the driver had the brake lights on at that moment.
Chief Graham also said the police department does not put any pressure on volunteers like Jensen in these hearings.
Attorney Ray Scheetz, of the Scheetz Law Firm, does have issues with the process of contesting these citations.
"The city makes it as difficult as possible to fight a citation that you might receive in the mail two or three weeks after it happens," said Scheetz.
He said he had a client from out-of-town who had an appointment later in the evening, at 8:20 p.m., but had to wait for an "hour and a half before he was heard".
"99.9% of the people aren't going to have the disruption for a $75 ticket and I think the city knows that," said Scheetz.
Scheetz also has problems with some of the placement of the cameras, in particular the 380/"H" Avenue Northbound location. That spot is in the final stretch where the speed limit is 55 right before it goes up.
"It is immediately before the signs for 60 miles an hour," said Scheetz. He also stressed the delay between a violation and when the ticket arrives in the mail means that details that lead to defenses can be lost.
"When you obtain your ticket three weeks later, you might have had a very good reason," said Scheetz. "Maybe you had to accelerate in that zone to avoid getting into a crash. You won't remember that three weeks later. If an officer was sitting there, you could explain it to him and it would be at his discretion."
Cedar Rapids city council member Chuck Swore, a vocal supporter of the cameras, doesn't buy that.
"It's not like we don't tell people they are there," said Swore. "Everywhere they are used, it's posted."