Talks have begun between the University Police Department and other entities on campus to try to expand and update JSU’s traffic court appeals process.
Like other departments on campus, UPD has to be re-accredited. This past spring, the Virginia Community Policing Institute (VCPI) held sessions where students and faculty and JSU met to address concerns or problems that they had with the way that UPD operates. The end result was a report of a few hundred suggestions and recommendations for change that would help UPD to reach its goals for accreditation.
“One of the points that came through the report was that our traffic court appeals system is outdated,” explains Vice President of Student Senate Brett Johnson. “It doesn’t really serve the student body as well as it could.”
Currently, campus traffic court is held on the first Monday of each month. Students who have tickets and wish to appeal them may present their case before eight Associate Justices and the Chief Justice. The court then decides whether the student is guilty or not guilty.
“We have a lot of non-traditional students here,” Johnson says. “An example that one of the officers gave was that we have some single parents who live in, let’s say, Fort Payne, or a couple of hours away. They take two night classes a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they drive back and forth, and they have a babysitter during that time. If they get a parking ticket and they want to appeal it, they have to wait til the next month, on the first Monday at 4:00. Generally, most of them have full-time jobs, or they’re watching their children. So it’s just really not feasible for them to come.”
The solution? VCPI suggested that the university have an online format for appeals. UPD has met with university officials, the Faculty Senate, and the Student Government Association to get everyone’s input on that idea.
“The original, up-in-the-air idea was to replace traffic court with an online only system,” Johnson says. “That idea immediately was met with ‘we don’t want that’ from just about everybody.”
So this past Friday, SGA met with UPD to discuss alternatives and how to work towards a solution that would be best for everyone involved.
“What we talked through is adding an online option to our current court,” Johnson explains. “This would allow any students who can’t make court but want to appeal to go the online route. Then the Justices, before the monthly meeting, would review those cases, perhaps through e-mail, and submit their votes accordingly.”
“The goal is basically to serve more students by lessening the inconveniences on those who wish to appeal their traffic violations.”
University Police Chief Shawn Giddy said that the online system would be anonymous. That way, no bias would be shown in favor of or against students, and the verdict would be based on the appeals themselves.
“Let’s say you had three students who got tickets for parking in the wrong zone,” he says. “Two were found not guilty and one was, but they all committed the same violation. So the one student would say, ‘Why were they not guilty, when they did the exact same thing I did?’ That wouldn’t happen with online appeals, because it wouldn’t matter how well you did or didn’t present yourself in front of the court.”
One consideration is to have a review board of students who would review all online submissions. This panel would decide if an appeal online is warranted, or granted worthy of a hearing. If so, then the person who filed the appeal could continue the process online, or could go before the Justices and plead their case in person at traffic court.
Under the system currently in place, if a student appeals to the court and is found guilty of a parking violation, they must pay five dollars in addition to the cost of their ticket. They would face a similar situation if they choose to appeal online; any case that is lost or considered unwarranted would result in an additional five dollar fine for the student who appealed.
Johnson says that he is going to start working on a legislative proposal, and then ask if any Senators want to back that.
“Right now, there is no formal proposal,” he says. “So it’s just something that we’re taking slowly. But before anything is official, it will have to have gone through the Student Senate.”
As of right now, no definite deadline or time frame has been set for when the legislation would be proposed or become effective, if passed.