7/30/2012Florida Appeals Court Sides with Red Light Cameras
Second highest court in Florida splits again on the question of red light camera legality.
The Florida Court of Appeals has split on the photo enforcement question. Earlier this month, the Fifth District ruled implementation of red light cameras prior to the 2010 legislative approval was illegal (view opinion). In late November, the Third District upheld the use of automated ticketing machines (view ruling). The Fourth District weighed in on Wednesday, siding with the private, for-profit firms that issue tickets on behalf of municipalities.
"When is running a red light not the same as running a red light?" Chief Judge Melanie G. May asked at the opening of her ruling. "The answer: when the violation is captured by a red light camera instead of a law enforcement officer. This distinction is one with a difference."
Motorist Marvin Arrington had sued to overturn the 2010 statute named after Mark Wandall that authorized the use of red light cameras in the state. Arrington argued this law violated the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause by treating people accused of running a red light differently, depending on whether a police officer saw the alleged violation or whether a camera played the role of accuser. When a police officer issues the $158 ticket, it comes with license points. No points are included with photo tickets. Broward County Circuit Court Judge Fred Berman sided with Arrington.
In making her case for the cameras, Judge May cited a December 22 ruling by the US District Court for the District of Columbia that found no equal protection problem when a motorist could be jailed for 90 days when pulled over for speeding, but not when photographed for the same alleged offense (view ruling).
May argued that this is also true in Florida because it makes sense to assign points to the driver of the vehicle pulled over by a real police officer, while not imposing points on the registered vehicle owner who receives a ticket in the mail from a private company.
"Because points are 'personal,' it would not be reasonable for the legislature to impose them based on a red light violation captured by a camera as there is no law enforcement officer present to determine who actually operated the vehicle," Judge May ruled. "There is therefore a rational basis for the differing penalties between the two statutory provisions."
The decision overturned Judge Berman's earlier ruling -- to the delight of American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the company that runs the largest number of camera ticketing programs in Florida. The company issued a press release last week celebrating the ruling.
"This side-attack against the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act provided the court system with another opportunity to reveal the solid legal foundation by which police can use legal and technological tools available to them," ATS General Counsel George Hittner said.
A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.