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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 07/12/2009

Ever Heard of Computers?

By Marisa Katz

By Frances Alexander
Newburg, Md.

We live in a digital age. We pay our bills online and have our checking accounts and credit cards debited monthly for payments, and, in fact, many of us do not even write paper checks more than a few times a year. Money is electronically transferred almost immediately, resulting in quick or same-day payments to a credit card or online shopping site, and even to the Internal Revenue Service.

The Maryland State Police issue thousands of citations a week. Many -- probably most -- of these citations do not require a court appearance, especially if the recipient chooses not to contest the citation. These uncontested citations must be paid by check or money order and mailed to the District Court of Annapolis; the only other option is go to a local District Court in person to pay -- which can mean the loss of a day's salary, usually far more than the cost of the citation.

This primitive mailing requirement incurs additional time and cost: for the U.S. Postal Service to transport the envelope to the District Court, and for the cost of multiple court clerks to process paper envelopes and checks, just for starters -- and don't forget the lag time for processing a paper check, which can be days.

So why is the District Court of Maryland incapable of understanding that online payments are faster, cheaper and more reliable than any check sent through the mail? Even payments by telephone using a credit card are faster and more efficient. Why does the court flatly refuse to accept online payments for uncontested citations? Is it because the government of Maryland is so hidebound and antiquated that it hasn't figured out how to use computers? Or is it because it can then claim that it never received the check, thus justifying a penalty fee on these citations?

After all, Maryland has a huge deficit; think of the money the penalties can bring in. (Paranoid? Maybe. But possibly right? Oh, yes, definitely.)

By Marisa Katz  | July 12, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  police  
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