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Quote of the Day - An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight. . . The truly wise person is colorblind. - Albert Schweitzer
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How To Challenge A Red Light Ticket

Perhaps you're out for something other than a Sunday drive, as my grandparents used to observe when a driver whizzed by.  If you are, then perhaps you've also had the experience of driving through a pink light. 

You know:  the fourth color on a traffic light - somewhere between yellow and red.  The "I'm-going-too-fast-to-stop-and-the-light's-still-yellow" syndrome.  In other words, not yet red and maybe no longer yellow. 

It's at that point that you see the white light.  Not the one where you find out whether you've lived a clean life, but when the white flash immediately precedes the silent "click" of a red light camera.  Just after that, the image of you in the middle of an intersection you shouldn't be in gets transferred to a computer somewhere in Arizona.  That computer then scours the DMV records in your state to find your home address (the camera also snapped a picture of your license plate), and a few seconds later, prints neatly out on a traffic ticket bearing your name and address.  The ticket then magically finds its way into an envelope, into your mailbox only to be greeted by your sigh of disgust when you see your mug behind the steering wheel.

It's at that point that you may resign yourself to paying the $75 dollar ticket.  Not so fast there, bucko.  There may be some other options for you.

Many red-light camera companies make a lot of money on those tickets, and the cities who use red light cameras don't make as much money unless they negotiate a more advantageous contract.  Some citizens appeal to their local city and town councils to reconsider those contracts.  Some also complain about the net result:  while red-light cameras have been shown to reduce T-bone intersection traffic collisions, they tend to increase rear-end collisions. 

Certainly the intersection collisions are on the average more dangerous, but statistically, there apparently are comparatively more rear-end collisions that may result in just as much, if not more monetary damage.  Apocryphally there are likely fewer deaths and less severe personal injuries in rear-end collisions, however.

If your city or town uses red light cameras, you might want to check with the members of the local council to ensure that your city or town is getting its fair share of the revenue.  In some instances, the red-light camera company is making a handsome profit by collecting all of the revenue from the tickets if, for example, your town fails to issue an artificial minimum number of tickets per month.  No sense sending all that money to Arizona if you can keep most of it in your town.

On the other hand, why pay at all? 

There's this little thing called the evidence code you may be able to use to your advantage.  In California, like most other states, we have the evidentiary requirement that personal knoweldge is required for evidence to be admissible.  There's also the burden of proof, which the prosecutor must meet.  That means that the prosecutor must introduce evidence of the red light picture of you and your car in the middle of the intersection after you went through a red light.  The court then has to admit the picture into evidence in order to convict you of going through a red light. 

To admit a photograph into evidence, the prosecutor must have the person who took the photograph testify to that person's individual knowlege of the photograph to lay the foundation to admit the photograph into evidence.  In other words, the person who took the photograph must testify that the camera was working properly, the computer that stored the photograph was working properly and correctly cross-referenced your license plate number against DMV records and that the car being driven was your car.  The evidence also has to show that you were behind the wheel, that the light was red (in your direction) and that you were past the intersection limit line.

That's a lot of things one photograph has to show.

That person must then testify to her personal knowledge that the photograph in court is the same photograph taken by the camera, recorded on the computer, cross-referenced against DMV records, mailed to you, that the car in the photograph is registered to you, you were driving the car and you were past the limit line - all before the photograph in the prosecutor's hands can be admitted into evidence.

Unless the person from Arizona who operates the computer is nearby, that level of proof is hard to place before the judge.  The correct objection to assert then is "Lack of Foundation, California Evidence Code section 402."  If you make that objection and the judge understands it, then the photograph should not be admitted into evidence unless those criteria have been met.  The prosecutor can attempt to introduce the photograph using Evidence Code sections 1550, et seq., but without someone to establish that the photograph is a business record, the photo might not come into evidence.

Plus, you've got chain-of-custody issues if the prosecutor tries to use someone locally to introduce the photo.  How did it get from Arizona to whatever city/town you're in?  Was it altered along the way?  Without someone who can trace it from the camera to the courtroom, the photograph should not come into evidence.

Without the photograph, the red-light case against you should be dismissed and no one will get any revenue.

On the other hand, you could just stop for the red light and avoid all of this hassle.

Just a thought.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 12:37 Comments Closed (3) |
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