Raleigh speeders are going to feel state law's teeth

Staff WriterSeptember 14, 2007 

When a Raleigh police officer catches you speeding, the standbys of batted eyelashes or a fairly realistic excuse are no longer likely bets to keep you out of court.

For years, Raleigh police had two ways to charge a speeder: using city ordinances or state law. A speeding ticket filed under state law can cost you big in lawyer's fees and insurance and muck up your driving record.

Using the city code just required you to drop a check in the mail. City officers used it often. No hike in insurance, no driving record blemish, no need for a lawyer.

No more.

Raleigh's city attorney, Tom McCormick, told the Police Department to stop using the city code for speeders. In fact, he's planning to have the local ban on speeding yanked from the books entirely.

Raleigh police had no policies -- written or understood -- advising officers how to choose between local codes and state laws.

Last May, a News & Observer investigation on speeding spotted the discrepancy. In 2006, a quarter of the roughly 20,000 speeders charged were treated to a city code violation instead of a charge for breaking state law.

One officer gave 80 percent of the speeders he pulled a city ticket; other officers spared no one. Some drivers, 175 to be exact, were lucky enough to earn the break twice between 2001 and 2006.

Dawn Bryant, the Raleigh police attorney, defended the practice this spring and insisted officers could determine who was truly remorseful and likely to slow down if shown a little leniency.

Mayor Charles Meeker didn't like the idea of police cutting breaks without some sort of rule book. He asked the city attorney to investigate. Turns out the local ban on speeding wasn't legitimate from the start.

"Cities are not allowed to criminalize actions the state has already made criminal," McCormick said.

He's not even sure how they got there to begin with.

Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at 829-8927 or mandy.locke@newsobserver.com.

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