Jim Porter: Automatic red light cameras questioned | SierraSun.com

Jim Porter: Automatic red light cameras questioned

Jim Porter
Special to the Sun

We have all seen them. Devices at congested intersections in select cities that automatically take photographs of drivers running red lights. Iand#8217;ve only seen them in Europe. Which shows how cool I am. Who runs a red light anyway?

How do you defend yourself when the municipality presents a date-stamped photo of you driving through the intersection after the light has turned red? Let me tell you how.

Red light camera

Tarek Khaled ran a red light in Santa Ana on Aug. 2, 2008. A photograph of the alleged violation was taken by an automatic camera manufactured and maintained by a private company who sent the digital photographic information to the City of Santa Ana, who charged Khaled with the violation.

At the hearing, a police officer testified about the general area depicted in the photograph, but of course knew nothing about the incident or the specific violation, nor did the officer take the photograph or process the photograph or disseminate it to Santa Ana, nor did he know the details of how the automatic camera system worked.

So what, you ask, itand#8217;s Khaled in the photo and the light is red. Heand#8217;s guilty.

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Khaled paid a fine of $423 and challenged introduction of the photograph as inadmissible hearsay evidence.

Hearsay

Youand#8217;ve all watched, and#8220;Perry Masonand#8221; or and#8220;Law and Orderand#8221; or maybe and#8220;L.A. Law,and#8221; so basically you know what hearsay is. My evidence professor defined hearsay as and#8220;an out of court statement used to prove the truth of the matter stated.and#8221; Whatever that means. I knew then, not sure I do now.

Hearsay is what someone else said. For example, I could not testify and#8220;Simon told me Lieberman caused the accident.and#8221; Simon has to testify so Lieberman has the opportunity to cross examine Simon.

Khaled argued the photographer had to testify as to how he took the photo or somehow lay a and#8220;foundationand#8221; for the photographic evidence. You know, and#8220;Objection, no foundation.and#8221;

Photographic evidence is usually not admissible in court unless the photographer is there to testify about taking the photo. One of the few exceptions is a surveillance camera at a business, like a bank or convenience store. Courts consistently allow those photographs as evidence, but only if someone testifies to being in the building and recounting the events depicted in the photographs, like the clerk who was robbed.

Ruling

The trial judge admitted the photograph and Khaled was found guilty of running a red light. The three-judge appellate panel of the Superior Court of Orange County overturned the trial court, ruling the photograph inadmissible hearsay.

Nor was the photograph one of the exceptions to the Hearsay Rule: Official Records or Business Records, two exceptions too boring to describe, but hopefully you get the picture.

Without the photo there was not enough evidence to convict Khaled. Charges dismissed.

Significant ramification

This case calls into doubt all of the tickets issued through these automatic red light cameras, so itand#8217;s huge. If you have been ticketed through a red light photo, fight the charges. And send me $100 for this advice.

New legislation

State Sen. Simitian has introduced legislation to increase due-process protections for drivers when their vehicles are captured running red lights on camera. SB 1362.

We havenand#8217;t heard the last on red light cameras.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governorand#8217;s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firmand#8217;s web site http://www.portersimon.com.