Friday, November 21, 2014
Illinois Supreme Court Punts On Red Light Camera Legality
Red light camera programs have grown so controversial in Illinois that the state Supreme Court could not come to agreement on whether the automated ticketing program in Chicago is legal or not. The justices deadlocked on the case brought by Patrick J. Keating, who argued that the people ticketed in the Windy City before the state legislature authorized the program are entitled to a refund in a class action suit. "This is an exceedingly rare occurrence in Illinois jurisprudence," Keating told TheNewspaper in an email. "We are disappointed that we did not receive a substantive opinion from the court, but we respect and appreciate the consideration the justices gave to the case. It appears likely that two or three of the remaining justices felt strongly that we had established the illegality of Chicago's program." Keating argued that Chicago jumped the gun in setting up its photo enforcement program. With the encouragement of what the US Department of Justice says were bribes from Redflex Traffic Systems, Chicago gave the Australian firm the green light in 2003 to begin building what was to become the world's largest municipal red light camera program. The General Assembly did not endorse cameras until three years later. Keating argued that even this authorization was flawed, as state lawmakers were not universally enthusiastic about having photo ticketing in their jurisdictions. So lawmakers carved up the state, only allowing photo enforcement in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will Counties, excluding the rest. The state constitution says laws must be "general" and not carve out exceptions for particular jurisdictions. The justices split three against two on the questions that Keating raised, but the court failed to reach enough of a consensus to resolve the dispute definitively. "In this case, two justices of this court have recused themselves and the remaining members of the court are divided so that it is not possible to secure the constitutionally required concurrence of four judges for a decision," the court announced. "Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed." As a result, the Court of Appeals decision stands as the final result of the case (view opinion), but this outcome cannot be cited as precedent. A copy of the one-paragraph opinion is available in a 15k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Keating v. Chicago (Illinois Supreme Court, 11/20/2014)
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Ohio Senate Votes To Save Speed Cameras
Ohio state senators are looking to deflect an attempt by the state House to ban red light cameras and speed cameras. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 24 to 9 in favor of a measure that allows members to vote "against" automated ticketing machines without actually banning their use. State Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) came up with the plan to merge proposals from camera supporters and camera opponents. Voters in eleven Ohio cities have used ballot initiatives to outlaw traffic cameras (view list) with language that says cities may not use cameras unless a police officer witnesses the alleged violation and personally hands the ticket to the driver. The Seitz bill takes the requirement of having an officer present, but he leaves out personal service of the citation. The change allows tickets to continue to be issued in the same automated fashion as they are today. Under the bill, the officer who sits with the camera and "witnesses" the violation is not necessarily the same person who approves and issues the ticket. "If a traffic law photo-monitoring device records a traffic law violation and the law enforcement officer who was present at the location of the traffic law photo-monitoring device does not issue a ticket... the local authority may only issue a ticket in accordance with sections 4511.096 to 4511.0912 of the Revised Code," Senate Bill 342 states. Those code sections explain that a city can take the tickets submitted by a private vendor, "examine" them, and have them mailed to the registered owner. The provisions are lifted verbatim from the proposal of state Senator Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park), a supporter of photo ticketing who cited statistics supplied by the Traffic Safety Coalition, a front group run by a public relations firm on behalf of Redflex Traffic Systems. "I think that we have a model, while not perfect, I think would serve as one in which [the cameras] could be retained and safety standards be maintained," Bacon explained. "My concern in looking at this is based on what other cities have done when they've removed these cameras is an increase in accidents." Seitz claimed that his bill would serve as a more effective ban than legislation from the state House. "Our friends in the House decided to introduce House Bill 69 -- a bipartisan bill led by Representative Mallory and Representative Maag, which passed the House and which bans the use of such devices altogether except for a very limited purpose in school zones," Seitz said. "Well, the problem with that as I tried to explain to my wonderful friends in the House is that approach likely runs afoul of the home rule provision of the constitution which basically says we cannot ban things in cities. Rather we have the power to regulate things in cities pursuant to a general law of uniform operation throughout the state." Seitz chose regulations that reflect existing practices in several jurisdictions, including Washington, DC and Canada. There, police officers are stationed in speed camera vehicles. Seitz admitted that his actions were motivated by public opinion. "We now have the opportunity to provide that system of statewide regulation, vindicate ourselves in the eyes of the adoring public -- witness the recent vote in Cleveland -- and move forward with other, more important issues," Seitz said. A copy of Senate Bill 342 is available in a 130k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Senate Bill 342 (Ohio General Assembly, 11/19/2014)
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
California Court of Appeal Upholds Anti-Camera Initiative
California's second-highest court rejected the attempt of a for-profit company to interfere with the right of voters to decide whether photo enforcement can be used in Murrieta. A three-judge panel went further on Tuesday and ruled that Stephen Flynn, the agent of American Traffic Solutions (ATS), must pay the court costs of Diana Serafin, the organizer of a November 2012 referendum that won 57 percent of the vote to bring the cameras down. ATS hired the expensive Sacramento law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk LLP to block the ballot measure, using Flynn, a former member of the city traffic commission, to headline the suit and disguise the company's involvement. ATS won the first round in court, but Serafin prevailed on appeal and the vote went forward. Serafin petitioned to force Flynn (and ATS) to pay her for the cost of defending the election. "Serafin's main goal in opposing Flynn's preelection challenge was to ensure that the voters of Murrieta had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote on a ballot initiative," Judge Art W. McKinster wrote for the unanimous panel. "Serafin was entirely successful in that endeavor and, in the process, they vindicated an important public right. We also conclude Flynn interfered with the exercise of an important right, and he is the type of party who is liable for attorney fees." The trial court will hold a hearing on the merits of the request for $131,858 attorney fees and costs. The Court of Appeal did not consider the merits of the initiative itself. Serafin did not appeal or participate in the postelection case on the validity of the initiative since she had already won and the cameras were removed. The appellate panel chided the trial court judge for refusing to award attorney fees because Serafin did not win the postelection challenge. "We find no support whatsoever in the actual language of section 1021.5 or in the published decisions for the trial court's conclusion that Serafin had to successfully defend Measure N in a postelection challenge before moving for attorney fees," Judge McKinster wrote. Fees and costs are only supposed to go to the side that wins, and the appellate panel was more than satisfied that Serafin met this test. The court added harsh words for the way ATS lawyers used the legal system to give Serafin no time to react. "In light of Serafin's limited objectives in this case and the result that was ultimately obtained -- a judgment denying Flynn's preelection challenge and allowing Measure N to go before the voters at the November 6, 2012, election -- Serafin clearly meets the definition of a prevailing party," Judge Art W. McKinster wrote. "There is no doubt that the voters of Murrieta had an interest in the result of this case because at stake was their constitutional right to vote on a ballot initiative. But by delaying filing his petition for almost eight months after the city clerk and county registrar of voters certified the sufficiency of the signatures to place Measure N on the ballot, Flynn's lawsuit necessarily implicated and interfered with the right of the voters in Murrieta to vote on the measure." A copy of the unpublished ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Flynn v. Vinson (Court of Appeal, State of California, 11/19/2014)
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Nevada: Federal Judge Finds Cop Caused Traffic Infraction
A federal judge earlier this month found that a motorist should not have been held to blame because a police officer's aggressive driving forced him to move out of the way. US District Court Judge Larry R. Hicks viewed the dashcam video of Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Lee traffic stop on Interstate 80 near Reno on July 11, 2011 and did not like what he saw. Trooper Lee was close by in the lane to the left of Albert Thomas Wendfeldt, who veered away from the patrol car and touched the "fog line" at the edge of the lane several times. Trooper Lee said that was a violation and decided to pull Wendfeldt over. "Did you notice that you were having a hard time staying in the lane?" Trooper Lee asked during the stop. Wendfeldt answered, "No." After taking Wendfeldt's driver's license, he called for a check of his record, which came back clean. Trooper Lee told Wendfeldt that he was free to leave, but when Wendfeldt started to leave, Trooper Lee asked for permission to search his vehicle. Wendfeldt said, "No sir," and Trooper Lee decided to detain him while he had a drug dog sniff the car. Eventually, 65 grams of methamphetamine were found. On the advice of public defender Cynthia S. Hahn, Wendfeldt pleaded guilty at trial and was sentenced to ten years in jail. Wendfeldt filed to overturn his conviction on the grounds that his lawyer gave him terrible advice. Judge Hicks agreed, finding the traffic stop was clearly illegal from the start. "The court benefits from having viewed the video of Wendfeldt's driving and the stop at the evidentiary hearing," Judge Hicks wrote in his ruling. "Although Wendfeldt's right tires touched the fog line several times, he was not speeding or driving erratically in any way, and his driving posed no danger to any other motorists." Although Trooper Lee claimed that he conducted the traffic stop to protect "the safety of the innocent motoring public," Judge Hicks found that it was the police officer who caused the conduct in question. "Wendfeldt's driving appears reasonable in light of the fact that a police vehicle was positioned in Wendfeldt's blind spot in the parallel inside lane for an extended period of time," Judge Hicks wrote. "It is reasonable for a driver to drive to the outside of his traffic lane when another vehicle is positioned to the side and behind the driver's vehicle in the inside lane... there is no indication that Wendfeldt was driving unlawfully, erratically, or in an otherwise unsafe manner." The initial traffic stop was not the only thing found to be unlawful. "The court is particularly troubled that Wendfeldt's refusal to consent appears to be a factor in Trooper Lee's decision to conduct the dog sniff," Judge Hicks wrote. "It was not until Wendfeldt refused to consent to a search that Trooper Lee told him to stand aside so that he could conduct a dog sniff... The court does not believe that any reasonable suspicion existed to continue interrogating Wendfeldt once he had been told he could leave." Because a motion to suppress the evidence would have succeeded, Judge Hicks found Wendfeldt's lawyer was ineffective and vacated his sentence. A copy of the ruling is found in an 85k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: US v. Wendfeldt (US District Court, District of Nevada, 11/7/2014)
Monday, November 17, 2014
Australian Autobahn Pilot Project Proves Successful
Driving the barren roads of Northern Territory, Australia is faster and safer than ever. In February, the Country Liberal Party government fulfilled a campaign promise by creating a one-year trial restoration of speed limit-free roads on a 126 mile stretch of highway between Alice Springs and Barrow Creek. Officials deemed the test so successful -- there were no speed-related crashes -- that they recently extended the limit-free zone to a total of 171 miles, adding a section south of the Ali Curung Rail Overpass. According to government statistics, most road deaths in this region were attributed to not wearing a seatbelt, 63 percent, or use of alcohol, 31 percent, not speeding. Between 2001 and 2011, there were six fatalities and 62 serious injuries on the stretch of road, none of which were directly related to speed. Officials decided to beef up patrols to counter drunk driving instead of running speed traps. "We are bringing responsibility back to motorists -- they need to be able to drive to the road conditions and their capabilities," Transport Minister Peter Styles said in announcing the pilot project. "Open speed limits mean driving to the road conditions -- everyone should drive within their own capabilities, the condition of the road, prevailing weather conditions and the standard of their vehicle." Between 1991 and 2006, rural roads in the Northern Territory had no speed limits. The Labor government imposed a speed limit of 80 MPH beginning at the end of 2006. After the change, the number of accidents increased, contrary to the predictions of speed limit advocates. Returning to the unrestricted highway has long been a goal of the Country Liberal Party, which stands for less intrusive government policies, private enterprise and individualism. To prepare the road for high-speed travel, the transportation department repainted lane markings, upgraded signage and removed obstructions such as trees from the roadside. The government also set 80 MPH speed limits near roadhouses or truck stops that are set far back from the road. Limits drop as slow as 50 MPH when they are near the road.