9/19/2007Ohio Supreme Court Hears Photo Enforcement Case
Oral arguments were heard in the Ohio Supreme Court case that will decide the fate of photo enforcement in the state.
The Supreme Court of Ohio yesterday heard arguments in a case that will decide the fate of both red light cameras and speed cameras in the state. At issue is whether municipalities may assert home rule power to issue civil tickets for offenses like speeding that are specifically defined as criminal violations in state law. Criminal violations allow an accused driver to be presumed innocent in court unless there is proof beyond reasonable doubt to the contrary. In contrast, civil violations are automatically imposed on the owner of a vehicle who may not even have been driving. A city only needs to assert that it is more likely than not that a violation occurred.
Attorney Warner Mendenhall, challenging a ticket mailed to his wife, asserted that this setup creates a clear conflict.
"These municipalities are exceeding their power," Mendenhall said. "The home rule power is limited... it does not allow a change in the type of law that it is -- moving it from a criminal to a civil offense, targeting owners instead of drivers. These are substantial changes not allowed by state law."
Mendenhall's position has the backing of another state's highest court. In April, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that photo enforcement ran afoul of a statute mandating uniformity in traffic laws -- a statute shared with Ohio (view ruling). On the other hand, in January Ohio's top court issued a narrow procedural ruling that found it was "unclear" whether photo ticketing ordinances conflicted with state law (view ruling).
Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton also seemed unaware of the significant body of evidence that has accumulated to show that red light cameras cause an increase, not a decrease, in accidents (view studies).
"It is almost intuitive without studies," Moyer said. "If you're being watched at an intersection, you might not run that red light or you might operate your vehicle at the legal speed."
The statement cheered Assistant Akron Law Director Stephen Fallis who argued in favor of cameras on behalf of his city and Nestor Inc, the financially troubled company that operates cameras in return for a share of the profit. Fallis stated that photo enforcement's civil ticketing scheme complemented the state's statutory framework, because the same conduct, speeding, for example, was being addressed in either the criminal or civil systems.
"We are here defending our constitutional right under the home rule amendment," Fallis said. "There is no conflict."
Attorney Tony Dalayanis spoke on behalf of several other Akron residents who received photo tickets.
"I'm here on behalf of the people," attorney Tony Dalayanis. "If the court checks its own docket it will see that... monetary interest sits on that end: the cities, the local government... They can't create their own system where they skip people's rights, where they skip the burden of proof."