4/24/2014Florida Appellate Court Backs Red Light Cameras
Florida Court of Appeal supports the practice of outsourcing red light camera ticket issuance to third parties.
After facing legal defeats, legislative setbacks and declining revenue, the providers of red light camera services were cheered Wednesday by the support of a divided Florida Court of Appeal panel. The judges considered the question of whether a private, for profit company is the one that really issues the red light camera ticket when the only thing a police officer does in the process is, at most, hit an "accept" button.
Motorist Eric Arem argued that the city of Hollywood did not have the authority to deputize its vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), to send uniform traffic citation information to the local court clerk, a job that state law says the officer must perform. Broward County Judge Terri-Ann Miller agreed with Arem and dismissed his ticket. Fearing the loss of revenue, Hollywood appealed.
In Florida, vendors like ATS mail $158 tickets to vehicle owners via first class mail. If the ticket is not paid within thirty days, a uniform traffic citation may be issued via certified mail. Under the law, it is the police officer who must provide "by electronic transmission a replica of the traffic citation data to the court having jurisdiction over the alleged offense." The Court of Appeal agreed with Hollywood that this provision must not be taken literally.
"We are satisfied that a fair reading of sections 316.650 and 316.0083, Florida Statutes supports the conclusion that the legislature intended to create a streamlined process through which red light traffic infractions may be resolved," Judge Burton C. Conner wrote for the majority. "The county court's interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions appears to defeat the legislature's intent for a streamlined process."
Arem argued that the police officer in Hollywood had no involvement with providing the information to the court beyond hitting a button and that there is no way the officer would know what information is transmitted or even whether the information was ever sent at all. The appellate majority found this level of involvement sufficient.
"We do not construe 'provide' to mean that the traffic enforcement officer must be the last person to press the computer keys that transmit the traffic citation data directly to the clerk of court," Judge Conner wrote. "The manner in which the original citation reaches the registered owner and the manner in which the digital version of the charging document reaches the county court does not deprive the county court of jurisdiction to entertain the enforcement proceeding."
The majority vacated the lower court's order of dismissal and ordered Arem's ticket reinstated. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Mark W. Klingensmith said his colleagues were legislating from the bench.
"In my view, the majority's opinion rewrites the statute to permit such a delegation of duty where the legislature declined to do so," Judge Klingensmith wrote. "It is the vendor that decides which cases the traffic infraction enforcement officer gets to review; it is the vendor that obtains the information necessary for the completion of the citation; it is the vendor that creates the actual citation; it is the vendor that issues the citation to the registered owner of the vehicle; and, it is the vendor that eventually transmits the traffic citation data to the court. For all practical purposes, the traffic infraction enforcement officer merely acquiesces to the vendor's decision to issue the citation."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.