Legal War Between Courts, Legislature Over Red Light Cameras - California Case Law
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Legal War Between Courts, Legislature Over Red Light Cameras

Flash. That'll be $980.

Who caught you? A camera, one that can't face you in court. And the person who prepared the picture that is attached to your ticket? She's also not available to cross-examine.

Good luck with your defense.

See why red light cameras and other "Automated Traffic Enforcement Systems" (ATES) are problematic? Hearsay issues and Confrontation Clause rights are at the center of the war on ATES -- one that is set to hit the California Supreme Court next week, and which has inspired a pro se plaintiff's U.S. Supreme Court petition for certiorari, as well as protective legislation that backs the camera operators.

The Battle Fronts

Conflicting Court Cases

On April 3, at 1:30 p.m. in Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in People v. Goldsmith and People v. Borzakian, two cases that deal with the admissibility of red-light ticket evidence. The two cases came to differing conclusions about the admissibility of such evidence, with the appellate court in Goldsmith holding that the evidence was not hearsay and was admissible. Barzakian went the other way, as did an earlier case, People v. Khaled, which was explicitly rejected by the Goldsmith court.

Meantime, there's Howard Herships, a pro se petitioner to the U.S. Supreme Court. We mentioned his petition earlier on our U.S. Supreme Court blog, but today, he sent us a copy, as well as a copy of the appendix. We're still skeptical, though, about the odds of the Court granting cert. (They're much more likely to wait for the California Supremes to chime in on the other cases, then grant cert. to one of those parties, if the Court is compelled to address the issue.)

Unconstitutional Legislation

One fascinating issue raised in the Herships petition is SB 1303 and other related red-light camera legislation. A last minute amendment to the bill reads:

(e) The printed representation of computer-generated information, video, or photographic images stored by an automated traffic enforcement system does not constitute an out-of-court hearsay statement by a declarant under Division 10 (commencing with Section 1200) of the Evidence Code.

In plain English? This little law just nullified the entire hearsay dispute that is at issue in the California Supreme Court. What Herships asks, however, is what will the impact be on the Confrontation Clause? The state can't legislate its way around the U.S. Constitution, even if it does mean a ton of revenue.

Speaking of revenue, care to guess who was the author of the amendment, which was sponsored by State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Santa Clara)? Why none other than Redflex, the company that manages the cameras. One of the company's internal memos, which were leaked onto the Internet and attached to Herships' petition (a clearer copy is available via HighwayRobbery.net -- scroll way down), "Both of these suggested amendments were provided for the Senator at his request..."

Another memo celebrates the passage of SB 1303 and discusses how it negates Borzakian and Khaled, while codifying the ruling in Goldsmith.

The Stakes

For municipalities, the stakes might not be as high as one might think. According to a piece by Ars Technica, the City of Modesto kept only $110,000 of the approximately $1 million in fines collected over three years. The rest went to Redflex and the salary of an officer who manages the system. Redflex itself may be getting desperate, as 2013 was the first time the company lost more cameras than they added, and their after-tax profits have slipped from $7.1 million in the first half of 2012 to $3.6 million in the first six months of 2013.

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