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Wilmington is suspending and revising its Instant Ticketing Program after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the program violated due process rights.
Last year, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of plaintiffs Christine Dowd, Damon Morris, and Roy Morris, finding that a 2008 New Castle ordinance establishing a civil, “Instant Ticketing Program” for sanitation code violations was “patently an unconstitutional procedure,” according to The News Journal.
New Castle County amended the county property maintenance code in 2005 to address the accumulation of rubbish and improper maintenance of exterior structures. The new provisions created civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance, but the county quickly realized that the criminal penalty process was inefficient and a poor deterrent to violations.
In 2008, New Castle shifted to a strictly civil penalty system, and adopted the Instant Ticketing Program, which could be used to issue tickets to the owner of a property, (regardless of whether he or she resided on the premises), for outdoor eye sore violations like prohibited weed and grass growth, banned accessory structures, oversized vehicle parking, debris storage, and rubbish accumulation and disposal. The system not only generated revenue for the county, it made the neighborhoods more attractive.
In 2009, Harvard University's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation recognized the Instant Ticketing Program as one of the year's Top 50 Government Innovations.
Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker noted this week, "We adopted this program more than five years ago because too many citizens were ignoring the need to keep their properties in respectable shape, which was in turn severely damaging our neighborhoods. The Instant Ticketing program produced a dramatic change in the negative behavior of some property owners."
The end, however, does not justify the means when federal courts are involved. Since the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the program, officials are considering changes that will keep neighborhoods looking "respectable" while respecting due process rights. On Wednesday, the county announced that the Instant Ticketing Program had been suspended, reports The News Journal.