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Archive for the category “Musings: Traffic Law”

Traffic Light Cameras Featured on Tucker Carlson Tonight

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  They are consistently controversial and violative of basic rights and now they have been featured on Tucker Carlson Tonight!.

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State board concedes it violated free speech rights of red-light camera critic

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  They are consistently controversial and violative of basic rights as described in the article below.

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A state panel violated a Beaverton man’s free speech rights by claiming he had unlawfully used the title “engineer” and by fining him when he repeatedly challenged Oregon’s traffic-signal timing before local media and policymakers, Oregon’s attorney general has ruled.

Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying unconstitutionally applied state law governing engineering practice to Mats Järlström when he exercised his free speech about traffic lights and described himself as an engineer since he was doing so “in a noncommercial” setting and not soliciting professional business, the state Department of Justice has conceded.

“We have admitted to violating Mr. Järlström’s rights,” said Christina L. Beatty-Walters, senior assistant attorney general, in federal court Monday.

The state’s regulation of Järlström under engineering practice law “was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests,” she wrote in court papers.

In April, Järlström joined with the national Institute for Justice in filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against members of the state engineering board. The suit contends state law and the board’s actions that disallow anyone from using the word “engineer” if they’re not an Oregon-licensed professional engineer amount to an “unconstitutional ban on mathematical debate.”

Järlström and his lawyers argued that’s not good enough.

They contend Järlström isn’t alone in getting snared by the state board’s aggressive and “overbroad” interpretation of state law.

They contend others have been investigated improperly and want the court to look broader at the state law and its administrative rules and declare them unconstitutional. In the alternative, the state law should be restricted to only regulating engineering communications that are made as part of paid employment or a contractual agreement.

“The existence of these laws and the way they’ve been applied time and time again has violated free speech rights,” argued attorney Samuel Gedge, of the national Institute for Justice. “Past history suggests the board can’t be trusted on how the laws should be applied constitutionally.”

Red light camera critic says state board quashing his free speech

Mats Jarlstrom, who has a bachelor of science degree in engineering from Sweden and has repeatedly challenged Oregon’s timing of yellow traffic lights as too short, was investigated by a state engineering board for the “unlicensed practice of engineering” and fined $500. He’s not alone.

Jarlstrom has a bachelor of science degree in engineering and has repeatedly challenged the state’s timing of yellow traffic lights as too short. The state board had fined him $500 for “unlicensed practice of engineering.” Järlström identified himself as an engineer in emails he sent to city officials and the Washington County sheriff challenging the traffic light signal timing.

Järlström’s interest in the matter stemmed from a red-light-running ticket that his wife received in the mail in 2013. Since then, Järlström has conducted his own studies, presented his findings to local media and “60 Minutes” and even to the annual meeting last summer of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Järlström is a Swedish-born electronics engineer. After serving as an airplane-camera mechanic in the Swedish Air Force, he worked for Luxor Electronics and immigrated to the United States in 1992, settling in Oregon. Currently, he’s self-employed, testing audio products and repairing and calibrating test instruments.

Another case cited in Järlström’s lawsuit, for example, is the state board investigation of Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, launched after receiving a complaint in 2014 that the Voters’ Pamphlet described Saltzman’s background as an “environmental engineer.” Saltzman earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental and civil engineering from Cornell University and a master’s degree from MIT School of Civil Engineering.

He isn’t, however, an Oregon-licensed professional engineer. The board ended up warning Saltzman against using the word “engineer” in incorrect ways.

On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman presented the state’s lawyer with several hypothetical scenarios, attempting to understand what constitutes professional or commercial speech: What if someone had paid Järlström to present his points, would that be commercial speech regulated by the state board? What if someone had hired Järlström pro bono to do research on the traffic light timing and present his findings, would that constitute professional speech?

If the court and the state’s lawyer are having trouble properly defining what constitutes “commercial or professional” speech on engineering that the state board can regulate, “how can we expect the board to apply these rules in a constitutional way?” Beckerman asked.

The judge pressed further: “If the board got it wrong in this case, why should the court defer to the board going forward?”

That’s why the state engineering board would have to exercise caution with each case, Beatty-Walters replied.

Järlström’s lawyer argued that the state essentially is trying to close Järlström’s case without allowing him to seek the relief he wants.

“The board’s proposed judgment goes nowhere close to what Mr. Järlström is seeking,” Gedge said. “Mr. Järlström should have the right to present his case for all of the relief he’s seeking.”

The judge said she will issue her findings in two to three weeks.

Both sides can then challenge the findings, and the matter would be referred to U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown, who would decide whether to adopt the magistrate judge’s decision.

By: Maxine Bernstein and published on Oregon Live on December 4, 2017 and can be seen here.

Speed cameras for Roosevelt Blvd. face hard road in Pa. legislature

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  Evidently Philadelphia is trying to install speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard.  Thankfully the efforts to install them may not be fruitful as described in the article below.

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Philadelphia planners hope speed cameras will play a significant role in the city’s effort to make streets safer, but first, the technology needs to be legalized. 

The path to legalization might be a rough one.

The effort was the focus of a panel Thursday morning at the Center City law offices of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads that was equal parts policy discussion, rally, and fund-raising event. The event was designed to boost support for pending legislation to allow the city to install speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard.

“It is absolutely necessary, and I don’t know another way to slow people down,” said Republican State Rep. John Taylor of Philadelphia, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Philadelphia has about 100 traffic-related fatalities a year (93 in 2017), and typically 10 percent happen on the Boulevard, she said. Of the nine fatal crashes on the Boulevard last year, seven involved pedestrians.

If authorized, cameras would snap an image of any vehicle driving 11 mph over the speed limit. The fine would be $150 for a first offense. The Boulevard would have up to nine speed cameras along nearly 12 miles, advertised by warning signs every two miles.

The legislation has been approved by the House transportation committee, which Taylor chairs. The challenge, he said, will be convincing House leadership to list the bill for a vote. That would need to happen by spring to give time for a vote in this legislative session, he said.

And there’s another deadline approaching: Taylor, who has championed the bill, is retiring when his term expires this year.

Taylor also noted the political landscape in Harrisburg, which just completed a grueling budget process. The Pennsylvania House speaker, Republican Mike Turzai, is running for governor, and the majority leader, Republican Dave Reed, is running for Congress.

In that environment, he said, getting legislators to focus on a bill that will result in more speeding violations for their constituents is a tough sell. Taylor has combined the  authorization for cameras on the Boulevard with another proposal for the cameras to be used on highway work zones to protect workers, something he thinks will be more palatable to legislators.

The Vision Zero Alliance, which is pushing safe streets efforts in Philadelphia, has hired a lobbying firm, Arena Strategies, to promote the bill and pitched to business leaders at Thursday’s session the need for $50,000 to fund the effort, said Jason Duckworth, a developer and member of the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance.

One of the most horrific crashes on the Boulevard killed a woman and three of her children. Samara Banks, 27, was crossing Roosevelt Boulevard with her sister and four children in July 2013 when she was struck by a car that had been drag racing. The driver of that vehicle was found guilty of homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless endangerment, though convictions on third-degree murder were later reversed by an appeals judge.

“There’s people who don’t agree with the speed cameras,” said LaTanya Byrd, Banks’ aunt, who spoke at Thursday’s event. “We all want our lives to be safe. I just feel like we need to do this.”

Byrd noted that some call the road “the Killovard.”

Among the opponents is Thomas McCarey of the National Motorists Association, who says speed cameras are primarily a revenue generator for government. Making roads safer, he said, could be accomplished by timing traffic lights differently, adding more traffic enforcement, and putting crosswalks underground.

The Pennsylvania bill is written to keep the cameras from being a revenue generator, said Jana Tidwell, a spokeswoman from AAA. It ensures that the contractor responsible for the cameras would not make more money if more violations are issued, requires signs posted on roads to warn drivers that speed cameras are active in the area, and specifies that all revenue would go to the state’s motor vehicle license fund, she said.

The speed camera program would likely be operated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which is now responsible for the red light cameras in Philadelphia. Fifty of Philadelphia’s 134 red-light cameras are at nine Boulevard intersections, and violations have dropped there. Tidwell has said the cameras decreased right-angle crashes at those intersections.

The program, however, was marred by technical problems and mismanagement in 2016. Poorly calibrated cameras generated hundreds of thousands of false violations, which then had to be weeded out by PPA workers. That cost the agency $123,000 in overtime payments in 2016.

“Speed cameras will be an even bigger failure,” McCarey said. “Speed cameras won’t stop the 3 percent of wanton speeders endangering us all, only traffic cops can.”

Overtime costs were significantly lower in 2017 after adjustments made to the cameras, PPA officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board studied the role of speed in fatal crashes and found it was a factor in almost a third of all traffic-related deaths nationwide from 2005 to 2014. The federal transportation watchdog recommended speed cameras as an effective way to slow down drivers, noting another study found the cameras reduced all crashes by 49 percent and serious injuries and deaths by 44 percent.

If the House passes the speed camera bill, it would need to go back to the Senate for a vote on amendments and then return to the House for a final approval before going to the governor.

By: Jason Laughlin, originally published on January 25, 2018 in the Philadelphia Inquirer and can be seen here.

 

 

 

A Collection of Traffic Law Writings by James W. Cushing

Over the course of my career, I have written extensively on traffic law.  These writings have been published in The Legal IntelligencerUpon Further Review, and The Pennsylvania Family Lawyer as well as posted onto my blog.  I have collected these articles and blog posts and have listed them below.  Thanks for reading!

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Iowa’s Supreme Court Hears Dispute Over $75 Speeding Ticket

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now.  A woman called Merrit Kennedy, writing for NPR, relates the story of Marla Leaf who litigated her camera-ticket all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court.

My other writings on Traffic Cameras can be found here:

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A dispute over a $75 speeding ticket has climbed through the levels of Iowa’s court system, reaching the lofty heights of the Iowa Supreme Court for oral arguments.

Marla Leaf got a speeding ticket because a camera allegedly caught her driving 68 mph in a 55-mph zone on an interstate freeway through the city of Cedar Rapids in February 2015.

It’s not typical for the state’s top court to hear small-claims cases. But in her case against the city of Cedar Rapids, Leaf argues that her constitutional rights and state law were violated because the city delegated police powers to the private company that maintains the speed cameras.

Opponents of automated traffic enforcement may view such cameras as “unduly intrusive, unfair and simply amounting to sophisticated speed traps designed to raise funds for cash-strapped municipalities by ensnaring unsuspected car owners in a municipal bureaucracy under the circumstances where most busy people find it preferable to shut up and pay rather than to scream and to fight,” Leaf’s attorney, James Larew, told the justices on Wednesday.

He said his clients “refuse to be stilled.” Leaf’s case has been joined with another that involves similar issues.

At various levels of Iowa’s court system over more than two years, Leaf has said she believes she was not speeding, especially because of slippery road conditions that day. The cameras are triggered if they record speeds of more than 12 miles over the speed limit.

Leaf’s case argues that it is unlawful to give the authority to assess speeding — something it says is police work — to the private camera company, Gatso.

Can the assessment of a municipal violation be done, Larew asked, “by the police department appointing a friend of theirs to serve as a hearing officer?”

Lower Iowa courts have been satisfied that the system is constitutional because it is the police department — and not the private company — that ultimately makes the decision to issue a speeding ticket.

“There is never a citation issued that does not get reviewed and approved by a police officer,” Gatso attorney Paul Burns told the justices. According to court documents, Gatso receives $25 per citation.

Larew also argued that there is no valid safety reason for the camera system on Interstate 380 — also the site of alleged speeding violations by the other parties to the case. He said the cameras don’t issue tickets to semitrailers and government vehicles, calling the discrepancy arbitrary and a violation of equal protection.

The camera system works by focusing on back license plates, which government vehicles do not have in Iowa. Patricia Kropf, an attorney for the city, told the court that the excluded vehicles are “just not in the database that we need to use to do this in a cost-effective manner.”

Burns also claimed that photographs taken of front license plates would potentially pose privacy concerns because the faces of passengers in the vehicle might be included.

Larew also challenged whether it is constitutional for the city of Cedar Rapids to assess fines for speed on federal interstate highways.

The future of certain speed cameras is up in the air across the state, The Gazette newspaper writes:

“In March 2015, the Iowa [Department of Transportation] ordered 10 of 34 camera locations on primary highways and interstates around the state turned off, and another three moved or modified, stating they didn’t improve the safety of the highway system. After losing an appeal to the Iowa DOT director, the cities of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine — three of six cities in Iowa with traffic cameras on state highways or interstates under Iowa DOT control — sued in June 2015 to keep the cameras on.”

By: Merrit Kennedy and originally published by NPR on The Two-Way on September 20, 2017 and can be found here.

 

Court strikes down law limiting cities’ use of red-light cameras

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now.  There has been some recent activity in Ohio (see here) but it seems Ohio has taken a step backward on this issue; to that end, a recent article on this subject is reproduced below and can be found here.

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By DAN SEWELL, Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld cities’ use of traffic camera enforcement for a third time, striking down as unconstitutional legislative restrictions that included requiring a police officer to be present.

The ruling was 5-2 in support of the city of Dayton’s challenge of provisions in a state law that took effect in 2015. The city said it improperly limited local control and undercut camera enforcement that makes cities safer by reducing red-light running and speeding. Dayton and other cities including Toledo and Springfield said the law’s restrictions made traffic cameras cost-prohibitive.

The court Wednesday ruled illegal requirements in the law that an officer be present when cameras were being used, that there must be a lengthy safety study and public information campaign before cameras are used, and that drivers could be only ticketed if they exceeded the posted limit by certain amounts, such as by 6 mph in a school zone.

A majority opinion written by Justice Patrick Fischer found those three restrictions “unconstitutionally (limit) the municipality’s home-rule authority without serving an overriding state interest.”

The state’s highest court has twice previously ruled for cities on cameras.

Justice Patrick DeWine wrote a dissenting opinion, saying the legislation was “a compromise” meant to deal with concerns that cameras were being misused to generate revenue while allowing municipalities “some opportunity” to employ cameras.

“Today’s decision has the unfortunate impact of further muddling a body of law that is already hopelessly confused,” DeWine wrote. Justice William O’Neill also dissented.

The state had contended that the law was within the legislature’s powers as a “statewide and comprehensive” way to regulate enforcement of traffic. Supporters said officers were needed to detect camera malfunctions and situations that clearly call for an exemption from ticketing.

An Ohio state senator who helped write the law called the decision a “Pyrrhic victory” for home-rule cities and villages and pledged Wednesday that legislators will keep fighting “policing for profit.” Cincinnati Republican Sen. Bill Seitz said the Legislature has “other tools in the tool kit,” such as reducing amounts cities and villages receive through the state’s local government fund

Dayton police, whose use of traffic cameras goes back nearly 15 years, were already planning to soon resume using officer-manned fixed cameras at certain sites, saying traffic crashes had shot up after camera enforcement halted. Dayton is also among cities equipping some officers with new hand-held cameras to record violations.

City spokeswoman Toni Bankston said Dayton is pleased with the court’s decision.

“In light of this ruling, we will begin the process of reviewing and analyzing the best way to proceed with our enforcement program,” Bankston said in a statement.

Ohio has been a battleground for years in the debate across the United States over camera enforcement. Critics say cities use them to boost revenues while violating motorists’ rights. Supporters say they increase safety and free up police for other crime fighting.

Attorney General’s spokesman Dan Tierney said Wednesday the case couldn’t be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because it involved a solely state law.

 

Associated Press reporter Mark Gillispie in Cleveland contributed.

Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

 

Speed Cameras Ruled Unconstitutional, City Has to Pay Back Ticketed Drivers

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (see below) and it now seems that the tide is beginning to turn and they are slowly falling into disfavor.  A couple of weeks ago I posted about a case in Alabama (the last link in the list below) and now a Court in Ohio has now declared the cameras unconstitutional!

A recent article on this subject is reproduced below and can be found here.

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Judge orders Ohio village to pay back $3 million to lead-footed drivers

Speed cameras became a cash cow for the small village of New Miami, Ohio.

The town, with a population of about 2,200, collected over $3 million in revenue from heavy-footed motorists after it installed stand-alone speed cameras along one of its major throughways, US 127. The speed cameras in New Miami, which is less than one square mile, automatically fined motorists $95 if they drove faster than 50 miles per hour.

It proved to be a lucrative venture for the village just 35 miles north of Cincinnati. Flush with cash, it raised its annual budget from roughly $1.5 million to $2.5 million in 2013.

But now, the Village of New Miami must pay back every cent of the $3 million it collected from the speed cameras, which were ruled “unconstitutional” in 2014 when drivers filed a class-action lawsuit against the village.

An Ohio judge ruled in favor of drivers, who claimed they were unfairly ticketed.

“Any collection or retention of the monies collected under the ordinance was wrongful,” Butler County Ohio Judge Michael Oster wrote in his decision last week.

The village reportedly cited almost 45,000 people and collected $1.8 million during the 15 months the cameras were tracking drivers. The village paid another $1.2 million to Optotraffic, the company that ran the speed camera program.

“We’re gratified and we’re getting closer to being able to show the drivers that we’re going to be able to put some money back into their pockets,” Mike Allen, attorney for the plaintiffs in the class-action suit told, Fox News. “Any municipality that enacts speed camera legislation can expect their budgets to swell.”

The village has reportedly spent over $100,000 in taxpayer dollars on lawyer fees defending itself in the case. A lawyer for New Miami told Fox News that it planned to appeal the decision.

“We could see the direction that this was going and we’re disappointed in the outcome,” James Englert, the village’s outside counsel, told Fox News. “We think the village has it right.”

Josh Engel, who is also representing the drivers, told Fox News that despite Englert and the village’s efforts to appeal, he is “confident” the decision will be upheld.

“Judge Oster upheld a basic constitutional principal that municipalities have to provide due process to people, and if they don’t do that, they have to refund the money,” Engel told Fox News. “The village has spent a huge amount of public money trying to defend this statute and at some point, someone in the community has to say, ‘we need to stop spending money on lawyers and just own up to our responsibilities.’”

The judge asked the attorneys representing the motorists to provide the court with a spreadsheet detailing how much their clients had to pay in tickets.

On March 3rd, Allen and Engel will ask the judge to order the immediate return of the money to the wrongfully ticketed drivers.

“This is a big victory,” Allen told Fox News, “on the way.”

By Brooke Singman

Published on February 13, 2017 on foxnews.com

 

That Time I Turned a Routine Traffic Ticket into the Constitutional Trial of the Century

As my readers know, I have been a rather loud critic of traffic cameras and have written extensively about them; the links to those pieces are listed below.  Traffic cameras come in at least two forms: red light cameras and speeding cameras.  I think they are antithetical to, and offend the norms, customs, and traditions of, the American legal system.  You can read my thoughts on this subject in my other posts which are linked below, I will not reiterate them here.

One of the difficulties in challenging traffic camera laws is that the out-of-pocket costs for a legal challenge far outstrip the cost of the fine for a ticket from those cameras.   As a result, people do not think the challenge is worth the expense and, unfortunately, these laws go unchallenged.

Well, as it turns out, an attorney in Alabama did challenge the traffic camera law in his state and it had a surprising result.

His story is below, enjoy!

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Laws that give municipal officials and their private contractors power to issue tickets via traffic cameras confer powers of both criminal and civil law while excusing them from the due process duties of both criminal and civil law.

The traffic-camera ticket: like a parking ticket, it looks lawful enough. When they receive one, most people simply write the check. It seems like the sensible and law-abiding thing to do.

But this is not a parking ticket. In legal terms, it is not a proceeding in rem—against your car. It is a legal action against you personally. And before you pay the fine, you might want to hear my story.

My story is not legal advice. I offer it only to show how our ruling elites have corrupted the rule of law and to suggest why this matters for the American experiment in self-governance.

The Ticket

My story begins with a confession: I got a traffic-camera ticket. An affidavit signed by a Montgomery City police officer, it averred that I had committed a particular traffic violation on a certain date, at a certain time and location. It showed a photograph of one of our family vehicles. It charged me with a “civil violation” of “criminal law.”

I wasn’t driving the car. In fact, at the time I was in a faculty meeting at the law school where I teach. Thus, I decided to challenge this injustice on the principle of the thing.

Municipal Court

On the appointed day, I tromped over to municipal court and sat down among those accused of armed robbery, drug dealing, and other misdeeds. After an hour, a bailiff emerged to herd into a corner of the courtroom those of us who had appeared for the slightly more respectable offense of owning a speeding vehicle. We waited some more, first for the clerk, and then to be called individually to meet the clerk. Those of us who requested a hearing (evoking an exasperated, poor-idiot-thinks-he’s-Perry-Mason expression) then waited for a magistrate to show up. Then we each waited our turn to appear before the magistrate.

After a summary hearing, the magistrate ruled against me. So I appealed to the county-level Circuit Court.

Actually, I tried to appeal. The clerk’s office made me wait in the lobby. When they finally saw me, they insisted that I provide a criminal appeal bond. But I wasn’t convicted of a crime, I protested. No matter. No appeal bond; no appeal.

No, we don’t accept checks. Come back with the amount of your ticket in cash. I found an ATM and returned, only to be left waiting in the lobby again. When I was readmitted, I saw a different employee who insisted on twice the amount of the ticket in cash. I left and returned again.

More waiting.

The City Attorney

Next, I called the City Attorney to see if she really wanted to go through with this. She did.

One does not expect municipal officials to be paragons of lawfulness. But it is a bit jarring to encounter a City Attorney who evinces no interest in, much less knowledge of, her constitutional duties.

I asked her whether this was a criminal action or a civil action. She replied, “It’s hard to explain it in those terms.” I asked whether she intended to proceed under criminal procedural rules or in civil procedure. We would proceed under the “rules of criminal procedure,” she answered because this is a criminal case. I asked when I could expect to be charged, indicted, or have a probable cause determination. She replied that none of those events would occur because this is “a civil action.” So I could expect to be served with a complaint? No, no. As she had already explained, we would proceed under the criminal rules.

(For the record, the Montgomery City Attorney never studied law with me.)

She asserted that I had violated the “rules of the road” and explained, “You were caught on camera speeding.” I asked her for any evidence. She replied that she did not need evidence. I was deemed liable because an automobile that I own “was caught speeding.” But the complaint is against me, I noted, not my car. But I am liable, she insisted, because I loaned my vehicle to “someone who speeds.”

I asked where in the laws it prohibits me from loaning my vehicle, and how I am to know in advance that any particular person is going to speed using my car. Agitated by my “semantics,” she advised me to raise any due process issues with the trial court.

[*click*]

This was going to be fun.

The Trial

Before the trial, I moved to dismiss the case. I wanted the judge to pay attention, so I tried to make the motion interesting. Okay, maybe “interesting” isn’t the best word. It was over the top. I alluded to Hobbes and Locke. I quoted the Declaration of Independence. I suggested the success of the American experiment was at stake. I resorted to superlatives. You know: all the stuff I teach my law students never to do.

We proceeded to trial. The city produced one witness, the police officer who had signed the affidavit. On direct examination, he explained how the traffic camera system works. A corporation in another state called American Traffic Solutions operates the camera system, chooses the photographs on which to predicate enforcement, recommends the Montgomery police department initiate an action against a vehicle’s owner, and is paid for its work.

On cross-examination, I established that:

– He was not present at the time of the alleged violation.

– He has no photographic evidence of the driver.

– There were no witnesses.

– He does not know where Adam MacLeod was at the time of the alleged violation.

And so on. I then asked the question one is taught never to ask on cross—the last one. “So, you signed an affidavit under the pains and penalties of perjury alleging probable cause to believe that Adam MacLeod committed a violation of traffic laws without any evidence that was so?”

Without hesitating he answered, “Yes.” This surprised both of us. It also surprised the judge, who looked up from his desk for the first time. A police officer had just testified under oath that he perjured himself in service to a city government and a mysterious, far-away corporation whose officers probably earn many times his salary.

The city then rested its case. I renewed my motion to dismiss, which the judge immediately granted.

Vindication! Well, sort of. When I tried to recover my doubled appeal bond, I was told that the clerk was not authorized to give me my money. Naturally, the law contains no procedure for return of the bond and imposes on the court no duty to return it. I was advised to write a motion. Weeks later, when the court still had not ruled on my motion, I was told I could file a motion asking for a ruling on my earlier motion. Bowing to absurdity, I did so. Still nothing has happened now several months later.

Why This Matters

Traffic camera laws are popular in part because they appeal to a law-and-order impulse. If we are going to stop those nefarious evildoers who jeopardize the health of the republic by sliding through yellow lights when no one else is around and driving through empty streets at thirty miles per hour in twenty-five zones, then we need a way around such pesky impediments as a lack of eyewitnesses.

Yet traffic cameras do not always produce probable cause that a particular person has committed a crime. To get around this “problem” (as a certain law-and-order president-elect might call it), several states have created an entirely novel phylum of law: the civil violation of a criminal prohibition. Using this nifty device, a city can charge you of a crime without any witnesses, without any probable cause determination, and without any civil due process.

In short, municipal officials and their private contractors have at their disposal the powers of both criminal and civil law and are excused from the due process duties of both criminal and civil law. It’s a neat trick that would have made King George III blush.

Standing and the Fundamentals of Constitutionalism

Equally troubling is that the municipality is authorized to make the owner answer a civil suit without any standing. Standing is a requirement for a person who wishes to enlist a state’s judicial power against another person. No fellow citizen can haul you into court without first alleging that you wrongly caused some particular injury to that person.

A city cannot lawfully do to you what your fellow citizen cannot do to you. And it has no standing if it has suffered no particular injury. If a driver rolls through a yellow light at an empty intersection and fails to cross the line before the light turns red, no one is injured, least of all the city.

In my case, the City Attorney argued that my city has standing because someone exceeded the speed limit while driving my car and thereby breached his or her duty to obey the law. Certainly, all citizens have a duty not to break criminal laws with culpable intent. But we owe that duty neither to the city nor to the state but to each other. If we breach the duty, the city prosecutes on behalf of the people and must afford us criminal due process.

That is American Constitutionalism 101.

The Mayor

The story continues. Lovers of liberty in Alabama kept political pressure on the state legislature, and earlier this year the legislature repealed the traffic-camera law. Yet Montgomery’s defiant mayor announced that the city would continue to operate the program. Curiously, he asserted that to stop issuing tickets would breach the city’s contract with American Traffic Solutions. One wonders how many tickets the city is contractually obligated to issue.

Finally, after the Attorney General told him to knock off the foolishness, the mayor backed down. Sort of. The city will no longer use car-based cameras, though it will continue to use stationary cameras mounted at intersections. In a fit of petulance, and belying his insistence that the program is motivated by safety concerns rather than revenue, the mayor announced that the amounts of fines for ordinary traffic violations will now be tripled.

A Small Inconvenience, a Big Problem for Self-Government

Traffic-camera laws seem like such minor, insignificant intrusions on liberty that few grasp their constitutional significance. But they reflect a profoundly mistaken view of American constitutionalism. One might say that the traffic camera is a sign of our times. Its widespread use and acceptance reveals how far we have drifted from our fundamental commitment to self-government. When our governing officials dismiss due process as mere semantics, when they exercise powers they don’t have and ignore duties they actually bear, and when we let them get away with it, we have ceased to be our own rulers.

By:  Adam MacLeod is an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and author of Property and Practical Reason (Cambridge University Press).

You can find this article here.

Chicago Puts the Breaks on Red Light Cameras

As my readers know, I have written extensively on traffic cameras, and the links to those pieces are listed below.  Traffic cameras come in at least two forms: red light cameras and speeding cameras.

So far, speeding cameras seem to be a relatively positive development in traffic control, and I, of course, will be keeping an eye on that issue.  Red light cameras, by contrast, are a much bigger issue.  I have been very vocal in my opposition to red light cameras on practical, legal, and, indeed, constitutional grounds.  I have summarized those grounds in the links below, especially the articles.

It now seems Chicago is the latest battleground for red light cameras and, as it seems to be the trend across the country, the red light camera program is losing ground there too.  Evidently Chicago is being sued for its alleged denial of due process to motorists who were allegedly caught by the red light camera program.  The Court hearing this matter has voided all of the red light camera tickets, which means Chicago is potentially on the hook to refund hundreds of millions of dollars to motorists.  Now, due to this ruling (which will likely be appealed), a class action law suit regarding these red light tickets is now in the cards.

You can learn more about the Chicago case here.

So, it seems that the tide is certainly turning and is now decidedly moving against the red light program, and this latest ruling, described above, is the next step in that process.  I like to think that my initial opposition to this program several years ago as published in Upon Further Review (see here) helped begin to turn the tide, but, regardless, I am happy to see this latest development.  The red light program is simply bad policy and the sooner it ends the better.

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Speeding Cameras Slowing Traffic Down

Traffic light cameras are in the news once again.  My opposition to red light cameras is well documented, as you can see from the links to my articles and blog posts on the subject listed below.

In addition to red light cameras, many municipalities are now installing cameras which can, somehow, record the speed of cars passing it, take their photograph if they are speeding, and issue speeding tickets accordingly.  Now, I am not sure how these cameras work in each jurisdiction where they are found, but if it is anything like how Pennsylvania’s red light cameras work, where the owner of a vehicle is cited and not the driver, and the driver bears the burden to prove his innocence, then I think the same Constitutional issues that are found with red light cameras are present with speed cameras as well (see my two articles below for a description of the legal issues).

Now, I have written briefly on speeding cameras before (see the blog post blow regarding ABC News) and have relayed how much they have been abused by various municipalities.  Despite that, apparently a recent study (see here) out of Montgomery County, Maryland reveals, at least for that county, that the speeding cameras (not the red light cameras) have actually served to save lives, reduce injuries, and possibly reduce the frequency of car accidents.  Presumably these positive consequences are due to the drivers, fearful of being ticketed, actually driving slower.

So, at least for the speeding cameras in Montgomery County, Maryland, they seem to have had positive effects.  The same cannot be said for red light cameras, which have, on the whole, had adverse effects as described in my blog posts linked below.

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