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Archive for the tag “cameras”

Red Light Camera Dust Up in Des Moines

It’s been a few months since I have written about red light cameras, but a new issue has arisen in the great state of Iowa that is worth noting here in this blog.  As my readers know, I have been writing about red light cameras for some time now and vocally opposing them.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribute, two women in Des Moines, Iowa are attempting to initiate a class action law suit against the City of Des Moines for its use of red light cameras.  Their claims appear to be constitutional as they claim that the cameras inhibit their freedom of travel and cannot be shown to have any positive impact on road safety.  The suit seeks to have the red light camera program shut down and the fines assessed due to the cameras refunded.

Notably, the Iowa Department of Transportation has recommended that ten of Iowa’s thirty-four red light cameras ought to be shut down as they have not had any impact on road safety.  Probably not coincidentally, the plaintiffs in the above-mentioned law suit received tickets on one of the ten to be shut down.

I will be following this case and I will post any updates to this blog.

Red Light Cameras to Go Dark in NJ

As my readers know, I have been writing about red light cameras for some time now and vocally opposing them.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

The latest news is that the Red Light Camera program in New Jersey came to an end on December 16, 2014.  Now, technically speaking, the cameras will still be taking pictures, for the time being, but no fines or tickets will be issued.  The suspicion is that Red Light Camera advocates will use the data of the ticket-less-cameras (which they presume will reveal the rise in traffic scofflaws due to the elimination of a ticket threat) to justify requesting Trenton to revive the program in the near future.

At this point, however, the program will more or less cease and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seems disinclined to renew it despite the support for it shown by local municipalities.  It is worth noting that the local municipalities’ support for it is really due to the revenues that flow from the program which, in turn I would argue, reveal why the program must come to an end.  Traffic tickets are designed to help deter traffic scofflaws, they are not designed to be a revenue source, and as soon as they become a revenue source, the abuses found in red light camera programs across the country rear their ugly heads.

To read more on this, you can find a good article on the New Jersey program’s future here.  You can also read other articles on the New Jersey program here and here as well.

 

Running Red Light Cameras: the Next Contest

This post is part of my ongoing series on my opposition to red light cameras.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

It seems as the weeks and months go by, more and more stories and reports are presented demonstrating the significant and deep issues and concerns surrounding red light cameras.  The links above describe many of them but as recently as last week (11/5/14) The Today Show presented the latest development: a law suit in Florida.  You can see The Today Show segment on this matter here.

The segment above highlights a lot of the issues I have written on previously (e.g.: this is a money grab, tickets are sent in error, and so on), but evidently in Florida the tickets are reviewed by a for-profit private company before they are reviewed by law enforcement and the for-profit private company has authority to eliminate some photographs before passing them along to law enforcement.  The law suit in Florida claims that it is unlawful, if not unconstitutional, to have non-law enforcement functioning as de facto law enforcement.

Although there was little opposition when red light and other traffic cameras were initially installed, it seems cases like the one on The Today Show above (and the other ones I have written about linked above) are becoming increasingly common across the country as more and more motorists are finding themselves on the wrong end of a potentially unlawful and/or unconstitutional effort to separate them from their money via a traffic camera ticket.  Hopefully, as efforts like the ones described above gain steam, the era of the traffic camera will soon come to an end.

As an interesting and coincidental side note, as I was writing this blog post, I came across this article regarding someone’s experience contesting a red light camera ticket from Washington D.C.  It provides an interesting and insightful perspective from someone’s first hand experience.

More Reasons to Put the Brakes on Red Light Cameras

This post is part of my ongoing series on my opposition to red light cameras.  I have written articles on the subject (see here and here) and blogged on it (here and here and here and here and here and here) many times.

It seems, of late, every time red light cameras appear in the news, more is revealed that makes them a terrible idea and, true to form, two more reports have appeared in the last week or so which continue to indict red light cameras as bad public policy.

The first report is out of Chicago which you can see here.  As predicted here, reports now confirm that tickets can be issued if the time duration of yellow caution lights is shorter than the three seconds required by law by as little as .1 seconds.  You may not think .1 seconds is very significant, but, as it turns out, shaving off that little bit of time, allowing for only 2.9 seconds for a yellow caution light, led to 77,000 more red light tickets and an additional $8,000,000 more to government coffers.

The second report regards a judge presiding over a case dealing with red light cameras in Miami who has declared the red light program there illegal as it is currently enforced.  You can read more about that case here.  Under the law applicable in Miami, a private company is empowered to take and examine the red light camera photographs to discern whether a violation occurred.  If this private company believes a violation occurred it then issues the driver a citation.  The judge in this case ruled that only government entities are empowered to issue citations, not private companies.  As an aside, the fact that a private company is conducting so many government functions, to me, smacks of clear political patronage, which is yet another reason to oppose the red light programs.

Finally, as noted above, I have written on this subject many times.  I am starting to run out of puns and plays on words to title these posts.  So, if you have any suggestions for the titles of future pieces, leave a comment and let me know!

Even More Caution in Using Red Light Cameras

More data has been revealed that, in my mind, ought to persuade lawmakers to discontinue the use of red light cameras.  My opposition to red light cameras is no secret as I have written about it, both in publications and this blog, many times before: here, here, here, here, and here.

If it was not bad enough, as stated in my previous pieces linked above, that red light cameras are potentially unconstitutional, a violation of our civil rights, and making driving more dangerous, it now turns out that what we all suspected may be true, namely: regardless of the pretense of “safety” or keeping people driving appropriately (or whatever else lawmakers say), red light cameras are merely an attempt at making money for the state/commonwealth/government at the expense of motorists.

A new study has now shown that the time duration for an illuminated yellow/caution light on many traffic lights outfitted with red light cameras may have been shortened (shorter than typically expected by an average motorist), presumably in order to cause more drivers to run red lights, get caught by the red light cameras, and drive up the number of tickets issued (and the fines associated with the same).

To make matters worse, there are reports that the red light cameras in Chicago have increased red light tickets by the thousands under, according to the report, “questionable circumstances.”  As a result, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering additional time to appeal tickets and issuing refunds of fines and penalties.

So, not only do these red light cameras have questionable constitutionality, they are now a rather overt money grab on unsuspecting drivers who are, more or less, being entrapped by local law enforcement.

As the months pass, more and more reasons to discontinue the red light camera program are revealed.  When will our legislators do something?  I, for one, will pass this along to State Rep. Brian Sims (out of Center City Philadelphia) who is my friend and former co-worker at my law office, as part of my effort to end the red light camera program.

Picture Imperfect: the Implications of Using Cameras to Monitor Drivers

Anyone who has driven the roundabout encircling Philadelphia’s City Hall or down the Northeast Philadelphia drag strip (a.k.a. Roosevelt Boulevard) has no doubt encountered the cameras monitoring whether motorists stop at the traffic lights. Although these cameras apparently have made driving these roads safer, are the new traffic laws that were passed to regulate these cameras consistent with the traditional principles of American Law?
Although most people do not view a traffic violation as seriously as a criminal offense, said violations are a form of criminal offense. According to Pennsylvania Courts, a traffic violation is classified as a summary offense pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section 106(c) (see Stumpf v. Nye, 2008 Pa. Super. 122 (2008), Commonwealth v. Henry, 2008 Pa. Super. 20 (2008), and Commonwealth v. Gimbara, 2003 Pa. Super. 394 (2003)). According to 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section 106(c), a summary offense is a classification of a criminal offense. Pennsylvania Courts have made it clear that even for summary offenses, the burden the Commonwealth must meet is “beyond a reasonable doubt” (see Commonwealth v. A.D.B., 752 A.2d 438 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2000 and Commonwealth v. Banellis, 452 Pa.Super. 478 (1996)). Therefore, working backward logically, as a traffic violation is a summary offense, which is a classification of a crime, and the Commonwealth’s burden of proof for a crime is beyond a reasonable doubt, it is clear that the Commonwealth has to prove its case against a defendant in Traffic Court beyond a reasonable doubt, and therein lies the rub relative to the traffic cameras mentioned above.

According to 75 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3116(a), a city of the first class, such as Philadelphia, is authorized to enforce traffic control devices through the use of an automated camera system. The cameras photograph the rear of a vehicle, capturing its make, model, and license plate, as well as the violation, as it passes through an intersection against the direction of a traffic control devise, generally a red traffic light. Pursuant to Section 3116(b) of the same title, if an automobile is photographed perpetrating a traffic violation by driving through a red light, the owner of the vehicle is presumed liable for the penalty for the violation. If a vehicle owner is presumed liable for a traffic violation penalty due to a photograph pursuant to Section 3116(a), it is up to the owner of the vehicle to prove his innocence by raising various defenses, such as alleging that he was not driving the vehicle at the time the photograph was taken. It is also notable that under Section 3116(e)(1), the statute specifically prohibits the cameras to photograph the front of a vehicle as evidence of the violation.

What happened to the Commonwealth having to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? It seems that 75 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3116, in one fell swoop, has, in effect, turned perhaps the most axiomatic of American legal principles on its head. The Commonwealth’s burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt, which applies to criminal matters such as violating traffic control devices, has not just been reduced to a less onerous burden, but it has been essentially reversed by placing the burden on the automobile owner to prove his innocence. The presumption of guilt against the owner of a vehicle afforded by Section 3116 overlooks doubts that are manifestly reasonable on their face such as: it was the owner’s spouse, friend, child and/or neighbor driving the car, not the owner himself, or that the car was stolen. Indeed, even the obvious solution of photographing the front of the vehicle which would, or at least could, capture an image of the face of the driver illegally traversing the intersection is inexplicably prohibited. Finally, it would seem that Section 3116 tacitly, without any fanfare at all, undermines a basic principle of traffic law which heretofore established that penalties for violating a traffic law attach to an individual rather than the vehicle itself. It seems that Section 3116, without explicitly changing the focus of traffic law, suddenly has made being caught by an approved camera a violation that attaches to the vehicle itself as opposed to the driver. While focusing on the vehicle as opposed to the driver could be an explanation for the sudden ease in the Commonwealth’s burden in these sorts of matters, nowhere in the statute is it stated that traffic violations now attach to vehicles as opposed to drivers. Therefore, one is left with the clear conclusion that, when it comes to traffic control cameras, a vehicle owner is guilty of a violation until proving himself innocent.

Surely the safer streets, which seem to have resulted from the installation of cameras, is a good thing. However, although most people view traffic violations as a minor issue, the apparent overturning of the basic American principle of “innocent until proven guilty” could potentially have significant and long range effects. Could Section 3116 be struck down by the Court? Possibly, but due to the costs involved, it is obviously unlikely that a conviction under Section 3116 would even be litigated let alone appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the Pennsylvania Legislature could use Section 3116 as a springboard to slowly erode and ease its burden of proof in even more significant criminal matters. As citizens of this venerable Commonwealth, we must be vigilant in ensuring that our rights do not continue to be eroded in the name of safety.

Originally published on December 8, 2009 in Upon Further Review and can be seen here or on my website here.

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