Jim Porter: Are red-light camera tickets illegal or not?
June 26, 2014
You faithful Law Review readers, if any, recall that we've analyzed two California cases addressing the legality of red light camera tickets. In one case the Court of Appeal upheld the ticket and in the other the Court threw out the ticket and conviction.
In the latter case I suggested my column was a Get Out of Jail Free card. At the time it was.
TWO NEW CASES
If you are interested in the legality of tickets issued based on automatic red light cameras mounted at intersections — tickets for running a red light — this is your lucky day. We have two new cases. Who runs a red light anyway?
PEOPLE V. GOLDSMITH
In People v. Goldsmith, Goldsmith went through a traffic light in the City of Inglewood. His citation read "Traffic Notice to Appear – Automatic Traffic Enforcement System."
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Evidence was based on photographs the camera had taken of Goldsmith driving through the red light – a 12-second video with a bar code reflecting the date, time, location and how long the light was red at the time of the photo.
At Goldsmith's trial, a red light camera specialist explained how the camera system operated. The judge admitted the camera evidence despite Goldsmith's objections of "inadequate foundation" and "hearsay." (I hear Jim Simon all day long walking around the halls yelling "Objection, hearsay." Consummate trial attorney.
The trial court ruled in Inglewood's favor. The Supreme Court took the case.
PEOPLE V. GRAY
The second case was People v. Gray, another 2014 case.
Steven Gray supposedly ran a red light in Culver City. His ticket was upheld. Gray's case also made it to the California Supreme Court.
Gray's contention was that Culver City did not follow the procedural law of automatic traffic enforcement tickets so his conviction should be thrown out.
Vehicle Code Section 21455.5(b) recites that prior to issuing red light camera tickets, the municipality must make a public announcement of the automated traffic enforcement system at least 30 days in advance and must issue warning notices (versus tickets) for 30 days.
Culver City had put out the public announcement and issued warnings and not tickets for the first 30 days of the first system the City installed, but did not reissue a public announcement or issue warnings versus tickets for red light cameras that were set up at different intersections later.
Gray challenged his ticket saying the 30-day public announcement and warnings instead of tickets program was required for each installation of a Culver City red light camera.
CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT
In People v. Gray, the Supreme Court ruled that for each red light camera installation the municipality must issue a public announcement and provide an initial 30-day period during which warnings are given instead of citations. Good news for Gray.
The bad news was that because Gray's conviction was two years after the system had been set up at the intersection where he ran the red light, the 30-day period had long since run. Gray's conviction upheld.
In what I would consider the more significant case, Goldsmith's conviction was also upheld.
While normally a photographer must be in court to introduce his or her photographs, for an automatic traffic enforcement system, a technician or specially trained police officer may authenticate the photographs and introduce them into evidence even though they were not at the scene.
After writing the Get Out of Jail Free column on red light camera tickets, I received lots of e-mails asking me to represent red light runners, all of which I politely declined.
While lots of municipalities have done away with their red light cameras, some have not. They want the revenue.
It took awhile to run through the court system, but it appears red light camera tickets, if procedures are followed, are enforceable.
Last thought: Who takes a traffic ticket all the way to the Supreme Court?
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.