Digital Sheriff of Nottingham

Last winter I received a rather curious letter in the mail. It was from a company calling themselves I’ve seen other scams by mail, and at first glance, I thought that this was just another. It purported to be a citation, issued by authority of the State of Illinois, for running a red light. After further inspection, I became even more convinced that it was a scam, especially since they didn’t have the right vehicle model, or even the right license plate. There was a photo on the notice of what they claimed to be my car, at a rural intersection that I’m pretty sure I’ve never been through, and the violation allegedly occurred on a date when I was, in fact, on vacation in Florida.

But if we ignore all of that, and further set aside the general legal issues raised by red light cameras across this country (a plague that organizations like the National Motorists Asssociation are currently fighting), we come finally to the point of my rant: what is the procedure when the system fails? In other words, when an innocent person is wrongfully accused, what is their recourse?

After a quick Google search, and verification that was a bonafide agent of the State (which, by the way, does not at all diminish their scam status), I called the toll-free number provided on the notice to inform them that they had the wrong guy. The license number cited was very close to mine, but the 2s had been replaced with 3s. How this happens in our current Information Age, I know not, but explaining all of this to the bureaucrat on the other end of the phone left her completely uninspired. Her only response was the standard protocol: I would have to draft a written statement documenting this fact somehow, and mail it to the address provided on the notice.

So in a country where our justice system is supposedly predicated on the maxim of innocent until proven guilty, I had to literally *prove* my innocence. Not in a court of law. Not before a magistrate. But in a letter to some faceless Sheriff of Nottingham threatening to take my money if I did not comply. It did not matter that their mistake was self-evident. I still had to expend my time and energy (and postage) refuting this meritless charge against me. Is this what we’ve become? America, I think we can do better.

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