The Indiana Court of Appeals has recently handed down a ruling that has rebuffed the way in which the Carmel Police Department in Hamilton County Indiana has issued traffic tickets to those cited for driving violations within their community.
The credit for this judicial involvement goes to the efforts of a citizen who took it upon himself to research the judicial authority with which the city was issuing traffic citations.
Specifically, as related to his own individual case, this person chose to fight his speeding ticket with the legal argument that the city of Carmel was impermissibly issuing tickets that conflicted with the state’s Home Rule act in the way local traffic ordinances must be enacted.
Unbeknownst to most individuals, as well as lawyers, is the reality that traffic tickets issued within city/town limits must be issued in conformance with uniquely tailored local ordinances and not necessarily state law.
The theory behind this practice is the belief that individual towns are more capable than state actors to specifically research and impose rational speed limits and other restrictions within their respective roadways.
Such local communities in Indiana are not permitted to merely duplicate state driving laws in establishing such ordinances. Rather, the ordinances must be fashioned in a manner that references the specific public interest in the ordinance as applied to the area affected.
Please keep in mind that this analysis applies to the enforcement of local traffic ordinances, such as the imposition of traffic infractions that do not subject one to criminal penalty.
For example, although a dui arrest is a traffic violation it is more significantly viewed as criminal offense that is in fact governed by Indiana state law.
The Indiana Court of Appeals in invalidating the speeding ticket given within Carmel did so based upon Carmel’s decision to simply duplicate state law in the enforcement of local ordinances. As such, the present traffic enforcement practices presently in place are in contravention of the state’s Home Rule laws requiring more specific justifications for the local ordinances.
The motivations for the way in which Carmel has formerly chosen to enact such legislation is open to speculation. However, one cannot discount the financial incentive for local Indiana towns and municipalities to attempt to keep more of the fines collected under local ordinances as opposed to sharing with the state more of these funds for the enforcement of state laws for county traffic violations.
Customarily, the above referenced arcane legal arguments are reserved for trained lawyers who have been able to skillfully allow for the dismissal of cases through such legal analysis. However, this individual’s efforts initially appear to have been made unassisted by legal counsel.
It is the involvement of citizens such as this who often become the catalyst in holding governmental practices accountable in areas that have been overlooked by lawyers attending to more pressing legal concerns.
While to many, the proper procedural way in which local ordinances in Indiana are enacted may seem of little consequence, I would strongly disagree.
Without state laws such as the Home Rule legislation, local Indiana communities would be permitted to do as little research as possible to potentially arbitrarily enact local ordinances motivated to secure the most financial gain possible.
For years, the City of Carmel as well as various towns and municipalities throughout the state of Indiana have issued tickets in the same manner without legal challenge. At the present time towns throughout the state are presently attempting to revise the way their present local ordinances have been enacted and enforced to comply with the Appellate court’s most recent ruling invalidating Carmel’s present ordinance practices.
While I believe other towns are more productively engaged in efforts to comply with the Appellate court’s dictates, the city of Carmel has chosen to fight the Appellate court decision by appealing the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Modifying present ordinance practice to uniquely address specific road conditions within local Indiana communities seems to be a reasonable position to most objective observers. However, the towns affected by this present ruling have much to be concerned with should the Supreme Court decide to uphold the Appellate court’s reasoning on the issue.
Depending upon how many years it is determined that such ordinance violations have been in place within a respective Indiana community, each local government affected could stand to lose untold monetary revenue collected by the enforcement of these ordinances now determined to be unlawfully enacted.
Already lawyers are in the process of investigating potential class action claims with which to pool countless numbers of citizens who have formerly been ticketed under faulty ordinances.
Although the financial implications to local Indiana communities should not be legally taken into account when rendering a final judgement on the issue, I tend to believe that our Supreme Court may find it most prudent to fashion a rational legal basis with which to justify Carmel’s prior conduct while providing needed guidance toward the proper procedural implementation of future ordinances that comply with state law.
Time will tell as to how this issue will ultimately be decided by the Indiana Supreme Court. What is known for certain is that no matter how this legal battle turns out, a debt of gratitude is owed to a conscientious citizen who took it upon himself to assert his individual rights against the power of a local government.
My profession is one that seeks to hold government actors accountable when imposing its might against an individual. In that context, it is most heartening to learn of the heroic efforts taken by an individual citizen that may prove to reform the way in which local ordinances are more properly enacted in Indiana for years to come.