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California Supreme Court Upholds the Use of Red Light Cameras

by | Jun 14, 2014 | Firm News |

A red light camera ticket is a type of traffic infraction that can cost you money, time, and anxiety. In fact, with so much misinformation online, I have spoken with many confused callers. They were not happy with the non-legal blog’s advice.

A red light camera ticket is enforced by way of technology, rather than an officer. While frustrating, it is still legal in some jurisdictions. Indeed, the California Supreme Court, on June 5, 2014, upheld the use of red light camera enforcement. This blog will touch upon the recent case, and other aspects of red light camera citations.

IGNORING THE CITATION WILL POTENTIALLY COST YOU MORE

First, do not simply ignore the citation. Yes, I am aware of the information online from non-lawyers. It is not sound advice. The California Legislature enacted Vehicle Code section 21455.5 some time ago. This California law controls the requirements for how a jurisdiction may implement camera enforcement. Therefore, while some cities may have discontinued their programs, other have not. Culver City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, among others, have valid camera enforcement pursuant to the law.

Thus, if you ignore the citation and miss a mandatory court appearance, it is possible that you can be found guilty of a failure to appear violation. This will add significant, and unnecessary, fines to your citation. Unless you were active military, incarcerated, or receiving medical care, the court will most likely find you guilty.

EVIDENTIARY AND CONSTITUTIONAL ARGUMENTS HAVE BEEN SPURNED

Second, the California Supreme Court has addressed some of the constitutional issues related to evidentiary foundation, authentication, hearsay, and confrontation. People v. Goldsmith (2014), S201443, recently decided, upheld the use of camera enforcement. The decision was a major victory for the red light camera programs.

The arguments in that case were similar to some of those posted on the online blogs. The defendant in the Goldsmith case argued, one, that the photos, obtained from the red light camera, were not legally authenticated. In short, the defendant argued that the photo evidence could not be admitted against her because it was unreliable. The California Supreme Court disagreed.

With sufficient legal rationale, the Court explained that the photos were reliable, and notwithstanding the reliability, the evidence could be admitted “as provided by law.” There is a statutory presumption that the photos are reliable. The trial court does not have to accept the photos as true, but it can admit it into evidence to be weighed against the defendant.

Two, the photos are not hearsay, according to the California Supreme Court. Section 1200 of the Evidence Code defines hearsay as, “evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated.” The Court clarified that a camera could not be characterized as a “person,” who has the capacity to make a statement. The law does not contemplate whether a machine can make a statement — at least not yet.

Third, the confrontation clause is not invoked because a defendant cannot, and does not have the right, to cross-examine a camera. Machine-generated printouts are not within the bounds of Sixth Amendment protection.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

I always advise consulting with a defense attorney. Although traffic infractions only involve a fine, not jail, it is best to consult with a lawyer for a few reasons. It can save you money. It can save you time. It can give you peace of mind.

Moreover, a red light camera ticket does not necessarily mean that you will be found guilty. The burden of proof in a traffic case is still “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the picture is unclear, or if there is an identity issue, the ticket can be dismissed. But, it is always wise to seek out the advice of a person with knowledge and experience. Our office invites you calls, and we remind you that nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. Watch out for the machines.