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Ticketed drivers continue to get breaks in court despite law change

Updated October 5, 2023 - 7:05 pm

Las Vegas Valley city courts are still reducing large numbers of speeding tickets to parking violations, a controversial practice that experts say allows dangerous drivers to put the public at risk.

Henderson and North Las Vegas municipal courts downgraded approximately half of the speeding tickets resolved this year to non-moving violations. That was about the same percentage as before new legislation that decriminalized many moving violations. Experts expected the law would cut the frequency of reduced tickets once it took effect in January, but it hasn’t significantly resolved the problem.

Only the Las Vegas Municipal Court saw a significant drop in reduced tickets. More than 80 percent of its speeding tickets were dropped to parking violations between 2017 and 2021. During the first half of 2023, about 50 percent of resolved citations were reduced, a Las Vegas Review-Journal analysis of court data found.

Contributing to the problem, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is resisting a state task force’s proposal that it create and maintain a database of all traffic citations to better track dangerous drivers. The task force, which the Nevada Advisory Committee on Traffic Safety created after a Review-Journal investigation uncovered dangerous drivers who had multiple tickets reduced before causing deadly high-velocity crashes, made the preliminary recommendation this July.

The July 2022 newspaper investigation found that downgraded tickets allow cited drivers to avoid demerit points on their licenses and increases in insurance rates. Once the offense is reduced, police in nearby jurisdictions cannot see that the original charge was a moving violation.

Overall, deals have been offered on more than 7,400 speeding tickets across local courts this year, the Review-Journal found. That included more than 100 citations for driving 31 mph or more over the speed limit — an offense that remains a criminal misdemeanor.

The region’s busiest traffic court, Las Vegas Justice Court, offered reductions for over two-thirds of speeding offenses written in unincorporated areas of the valley, records for closed cases filed between January and June show. The court did not provide the Review-Journal with prior years’ data during the paper’s 2022 investigation.

“We can’t keep dismissing the consequences and expect anything to change,” UNLV Traffic Safety Coalition coordinator Erin Breen said.

Deadly year on roads

Breen and other safety experts have demanded change following the Review-Journal’s investigation and mounting fatalities on Nevada roadways. More than 400 people died last year, marking one of the deadliest years since the early 2000s. Another 250 people had died as of this August.

Changing offenses to civil infractions was expected to bring more accountability to courtrooms because the state would no longer have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Instead, the new law has given judges broad leeway to reduce tickets without improving their access to a driver’s complete ticketing history, said Henderson Justice of the Peace Sam Bateman, who serves on the state task force studying the issue.

“We’re doing the best we can under a new system but with similar problems with limited information,” he said.

At least two local courts have adopted policies limiting how often a driver can have civil infraction tickets reduced to non-moving violations. Las Vegas Justice Court offers one reduction every three years, while North Las Vegas Municipal Court will downgrade up to two tickets each year.

But there remains no central database to track tickets written across jurisdictions.

Plans to consolidate Nevada courts onto a single digital platform to track and resolve tickets have hit a major roadblock: In Clark County, only Boulder City and Mesquite’s city courts have joined the $2.7 million platform.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Cynthia Cruz said there are concerns about whether the new system can withstand the thousands of tickets filed every week.

Creating such a database is a priority for the state task force, which will make official recommendations to the Nevada Advisory Committee on Traffic Safety before the end of the year. Task force Chair David Gordon said it’s vital that police officers have access to a driver’s entire ticketing history so they can provide the information as evidence during the court hearing.

It’s undecided who will lead the effort, Gordon said.

Nevada DMV spokesman Eli Rohl said the agency’s other work would “grind to a halt” as its employees processed the daily flood of citations.

“It’s not that we aren’t open to the idea at some point, but that point isn’t now,” Rohl said.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByMSDavidson on X. Davidson is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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