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Iowa Supreme Court Saves Photo Ticketing Program
Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholds the use of red light cameras and speed cameras without authorization of the legislature.

Justice Brent R. Appel and David Wiggins
The Supreme Court of Iowa issued a ruling today designed to help local governments that have been using red light cameras and speed cameras to issue traffic tickets. The decision came in two separate cases involving citations that the city of Davenport issued to Monique D. Rhoden and Thomas J. Seymour. The high court focused on Seymour and the arguments presented by his American Civil Liberties Union attorney. Seymour argued that Davenport had no authority to mail him a $125 ticket in 2006 simply because he owned a car accused of speeding. This was so, he argued, because state law mandates that only the responsible driver can be punished for a traffic violation. This would mean that that the camera ordinance created a conflict with state law. The court, instead, saw photo ticketing is a sign of progress.

"If the twentieth century may be characterized as the Era of the Automobile, it was also the Era of Automobile Regulation," Justice Brent R. Appel wrote for the majority. "Attacked as Orwellian when first introduced, the use of radar is now a standard tool of law enforcement. Innovation in traffic management has not been limited to speed control... Most municipal authorities believe police officers have better things to do than to control traffic at intersections."

The Iowa court focused solely on the question of whether the camera ordinance violated a statute common to most state legal systems mandating that all traffic laws be "uniform" statewide. The supreme courts of Colorado, Minnesota and Ohio had previously interpreted uniformity statutes in relation to photo enforcement. Minnesota last year found that, "Allowing each municipality to impose different liabilities [for a photo ticket as opposed to an officer-issued ticket] would render the Act's uniformity requirement meaningless" (read opinion). The Colorado Supreme Court also found in 2002 that municipal photo ticketing programs were not merely a local issue because 90 percent of citations were issued to non-residents. The Ohio Supreme Court, on the other hand, ruled that there was no uniformity conflict because, "the actual conduct prohibited -- exceeding speed limits -- is the same" (read opinion).

"The fact that state law does not authorize the state to enforce its statute through certain remedial options does not mean that it forbids municipalities from the same course of action," Appel wrote. "In the context of state-local preemption, the silence of the legislature is not prohibitory but permissive... We have reviewed the Colorado and Minnesota cases and find nothing to dissuade us from our approach, which is dictated by well-established Iowa case law."

The court concluded by noting that many defendants have raised serious constitutional issues over the use of photo enforcement, but that none of these questions were posed to the court. For that reason, it declined to address them.

"In reaching our conclusion, we are aware that the desirability of ATE ordinances is the subject of contentious political debate," Appel wrote. "...the pros and cons of ATE ordinances have no bearing on the narrow legal issue that we are required to decide in this case... Any determination on the merits of the policy arguments is not for the court, but the political organs of government influenced by an informed electorate."

Justice David Wiggins sharply disagreed with the majority's analysis, claiming it ignored existing case law on the subject.

"For the Davenport ordinance to be valid, it must treat its violators as the legislature treats violators in other parts of the state," Justice Wiggins wrote. "Why would the legislature allow a person with five violations under the Davenport ordinance to continue to drive, when its stated legislative policy is to prohibit a driver with three moving violations in any other part of the state from operating a motor vehicle? An unsafe driver in Davenport is an unsafe driver anywhere else in this state. By not applying our suspension and revocation laws uniformly, our streets and highways become a more dangerous place."

Wiggins concluded by noting Davenport's true goal was obvious.

"The uniformity of our traffic laws keeps the roads safe for all Iowans," Wiggins wrote. "The legislature never envisioned that municipalities could raise revenue under the guise of traffic law enforcement at the expense of safer highways."

A combined copy of the Seymour and Rhoden rulings is available in a 135k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Davenport v. Seymour; Rhoden v. Davenport (Supreme Court of Iowa, 8/29/2008)

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