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DeVita v. District of Columbia

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

September 5, 2013

James A. DeVita, Appellant,
v.
District of Columbia, Appellee.

Argued May 7, 2013

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAT-3201-12) Hon. Judith Bartnoff, Reviewing Judge.

James A. DeVita, pro se.

Gregory M. Cumming, Assistant Attorney General, argued the case for appellee. Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General, and Bradley A. Sarnell, Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief.

Before Glickman and Fisher, Associate Judges, and Ruiz, Senior Judge.

Fisher, Associate Judge:

Appellant James DeVita claims the Superior Court wrongfully denied his application for leave to appeal an administrative adjudication finding him liable for speeding. He argues that the traffic hearing abridged his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights because the adjudication was based exclusively on evidence provided by the Automated Traffic Enforcement System ("ATE System"). In the alternative, appellant asserts that, even if the penalty is civil, the administrative hearing provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") denied him due process of law. We conclude, as we have in the past, that ATE System penalties are civil in nature. We also hold that the administrative hearing satisfied the requirements of due process.

One comment by the hearing examiner – declaring that only two defenses were available to appellant – seems to reflect a misunderstanding of the statutes and regulations which implement the ATE System. On this record, however, we are satisfied that the statement did not affect the adjudication. We therefore affirm.

I. Background

The Council of the District of Columbia passed the Traffic Adjudication Act ("TAA") of 1978 "to decriminalize and to provide for the administrative adjudication of certain [traffic] violations . . . and thereby to establish a uniform and more expeditious system and continue to assure an equitable system for the disposition of traffic offenses." D.C. Code § 50-2301.01 (2001) (stating legislative purposes of the TAA); see District of Columbia v. Sullivan, 436 A.2d 364, 365 (D.C. 1981). Traffic hearings were transferred from the Superior Court to the DMV's Adjudication Services, which employs hearing examiners to adjudicate traffic cases. D.C. Code § 50-2302.06 (2001). There is a right of administrative appeal to the Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board ("Board"). D.C. Code § 50-2304.02 (a) (2001). A respondent may then seek judicial review "by application for the allowance of an appeal filed in the Superior Court . . . within 30 days of the decision of the appeals board." D.C. Code § 50-2304.05 (2001).

In 1996, the Council authorized the use of an automated traffic enforcement system. These statutes were codified, D.C. Code §§ 50-2209.01-.03 (2001), and implemented by regulations. 18 DCMR § 1035 (2001 & 2010). D.C. Code § 50-2209.01 (2001) provides:

(a) The Mayor is authorized to use an automated traffic enforcement system to detect moving infractions. Violations detected by an automated traffic enforcement system shall constitute moving violations. Proof of an infraction may be evidenced by information obtained through the use of an automated traffic enforcement system. For the purposes of this subchapter, the term "automated traffic enforcement system" means equipment that takes a film or digital camera-based photograph which is linked with a violation detection system that synchronizes the taking of a photograph with the occurrence of a traffic infraction.
(b) Recorded images taken by an automated traffic enforcement system are prima facie evidence of an infraction and may be submitted without authentication.[1]

"When a violation is detected by an automated traffic enforcement system, the Mayor shall mail a summons and a notice of infraction to the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle on file with the [DMV] . . . ." D.C. Code ยง 50-2209.02 (b). Section 50-2209.02 (a) "creates a rebuttable presumption that the car used in the infraction was in the custody, care, or control of the registered owner, and it ...


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