Monday, January 12, 2015
California Appeal Court Finds Red Light Cameras Unreliable
Legal controversy continues to dog California's automated enforcement programs, despite the best effort of state lawmakers to encourage photo ticketing. The second-highest court in California decided Thursday that the red light camera program in Riverside "did not produce reliable evidence" in rejecting the $500 citation that Redflex, a private, for-profit vendor, had mailed to Viktors Andris Rekte. Rekte, a lawyer, challenged the ticket he received for allegedly making a rolling right turn a split-second after the signal turned red at the intersection of Tyler Street and State Route 91 on October 26, 2012. Rekte argued the charge should be thrown out because the yellow light was illegally short; he was not provided a copy of the video evidence before trial; the photo ticketing vendor set up equipment in a way that obscured the view of the traffic signal; and the evidence produced by Redflex lacked a proper foundation. Don Teagarden, a city employee, testified that he "reviewed" the ticket that Redflex sent to him. Since Redflex bills its service as a "turn key" operation, Teargarden proved to have little to do with the process. His direct knowledge of the evidence was limited. "On cross-examination, operator Teagarden acknowledged he could not tell if the monthly inspections of the equipment conducted by Redflex included verification of the time intervals for the signal lights, and did not know if anyone employed by the city of Riverside checked to make sure the system was calibrated properly," Justice Manuel A. Ramirez wrote for the Court of Appeal majority. Video proof showed the yellow time at the location in question lasted just 3.5 seconds, 0.1 seconds short of the minimum allowed for the intersection under California's rules. An expert witness also showed that the red light camera setup obscured 41 percent of the traffic signal light for someone making a turn. In June, the California Supreme Court rescued red light cameras from a series of evidentiary legal challenges by accepting the state legislature's declaration that photo evidence must be presumed reliable. Here, the court majority was persuaded that Rekte had overcome the presumption with solid evidence of unreliability. The Redflex system said the yellow time was 3.65 seconds, when the video evidence proved the timing was actually 3.5 seconds. The system was, therefore, improperly calibrated. "Where the opposing party produces evidence undermining the presumption, the presumption is disregarded and the trier of fact must decide the question without regard to it," Justice Ramirez wrote. "In other words, the other party is no longer aided by the presumption and must prove the fact in question." The majority also expressed disapproval of the dangerous state of the intersection and declared the evidence produced by a questionably calibrated device inadmissible. "An inadequate yellow light interval renders a safe stop impossible, and constitutes an emergency justifying the entry into an intersection when the signal turns red," Justice Ramirez wrote. "Because the digital images were previewed by Redflex before being forwarded to the Riverside Police Department, and because digital images are susceptible to manipulation, it was incumbent upon the city to introduce evidence that the printed representations were accurate. Otherwise, the images were inadmissible because they were not properly authenticated." Riverside ended its red light camera program last year. A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: California v. Rekte (Court of Appeal, State of California, 1/8/2015)
Sunday, January 11, 2015
France, Italy: Speed Cameras Sprayed, Blown Up
On Friday, vigilantes spraypainted a speed camera on the RN102 in Salzuit, France, Le Progres reported. In Reggio Emilia, Italy, firecrackers were used to blow up a speed camera last week Sunday. According to ANSA, vigilantes cracked open the camera housing, and inserted the incendiary devices. Around the same time, a speed camera on the Via Santa Croce in Azzano Decimo suffered the same fate, Il Mattino reported.
Friday, January 09, 2015
Red Ink Mounts At Redflex
Embattled photo ticketing provider Redflex Traffic Systems expects it will lose $12 million from legal changes in two states. The company earlier today announced to the Australian Securities Exchange that twelve percent of the firm's revenue stream has dried up because of increasing dissatisfaction with the concept of automated ticketing. "Existing programs in several other states, including New Jersey and Ohio, where Redflex Traffic Systems Inc currently conducts business, face actual or potential legislative action that could restrict or impair the operation of photo-enforcement," the company told investors. "These changes affect all the companies in the photo-enforcement market in these states. Redflex Traffic Systems Inc has been active in working to inform both public opinion and these legislative debates." New Jersey's experiment with red light cameras proved so unpopular that no state legislator dared to introduce legislation to continue the statewide program until it was too late to have a realistic shot at consideration. The authorization for red light camera use expired on December 16. Governor Chris Christie (R), who had previously supported automated ticketing, sealed the fate of the program in September by saying he was unlikely to sign a bill allowing further red light camera. As a result, Redflex will lose $2.1 million in revenue, which is 6.2 percent of its expected annual take from American drivers. Although Ohio did not ban speed cameras, Redflex says the state has "reduced the viability" of red light cameras. A new law that passed in the place of an actual ban on cameras will trade fixed speed cameras in favor for mobile photo radar units. Redflex expects these changes to cost $1.9 million in losses, and a 5.7 percent drop in annual revenue. That will hit hard, as Redflex reported a net loss of $1.2 million last year. Losing another $4 million will compound problems from the ongoing Redflex bribery scandal in Chicago, Illinois, which has already cost the company $9.7 million in lost profit and $2.4 million in legal costs. The "Student Guardian" school bus camera flop has cost $4.3 million. A New Jersey class action lawsuit settlement and being caught underpaying wages in California has cost $1.5 million. The company's CEO is so worried by developments in the United States that the firm is considering leaving the red light camera and speed camera industry because of the risk.
Thursday, January 08, 2015
Missouri: Public Fights Back Against Red Light Camera Cities
Residents who led the successful ballot initiative to ban red light cameras and speed cameras in St. Charles, Missouri are now fighting back at three cities that are attempting to use the courts to thwart the will of voters. Carl Bearden and Dan Rakers on Monday filed to intervene in the circuit court case brought by St. Peters, Lake Saint Louis and O'Fallon to overturn the charter amendment banning automated enforcement adopted in November by 73 percent of the vote. Under state law, the proponents of a ballot proposition have a right to have their legal counsel involved in the arguments before the court. The move is necessary because the cities filed the lawsuit against the county itself and its director of elections, Rich Chismer. Those involved in organizing the ballot measure were not named in the suit. "Although the current defendants may be vigorous in their defense, they are not proponents of the proposition," attorney Marc H. Ellinger argued. "Proponents of ballot questions have a unique interest in litigation challenging any part of such ballot questions. Here, [Bearden and Rakers], as proponents, have a significant interest in this litigation and the claims of intervenors and the main action have questions of law and fact in common." American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company in charge of most of the state's automated ticketing programs, wants to do whatever it takes to prevent any further votes from happening in Missouri. In Texas, the company found a federal judge willing to block the sponsors of Houston's successful anti-camera initiative from being part of the company's lawsuit to overturn the election results. That judge received a stiff rebuke from the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals. "There is no federal authority nor state law prohibiting intervention of right in this type of case," the appellate judges said in reversing the lower court judge's order. Whatever the outcome in St. Charles, the status of Missouri's cameras remain in legal limbo statewide. The Missouri Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could end their use, as the General Assembly has never sanctioned their use. A final ruling from the high court is pending.
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Federal Court: Faulty Sense Of Smell Justifies Lengthy Detention
A motorist may be detained for more than an hour if a police officer claims he smells marijuana, even if no illicit substances are ever found. That was the ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which last week rejected Tito Abbo's false arrest lawsuit against the Wyoming Highway Patrol officers who mistook the scent of juniper for marijuana. Abbo was upset by his treatment at the hands of Trooper Regina Schulmeister, who patted Abbo down, threw him in handcuffs and locked him in the back of a patrol car for 76 minutes, even though he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Abbo was riding as a passenger in his car when Trooper Schulmeister pulled over Gregory Mercado for allegedly speeding. In the course of the traffic stop, Trooper Schulmeister said she smelled raw marijuana and sage. She called for backup and ordered Abbo out of the car so it could be searched. Abbo, a trained herbalist, protested, saying the troopers were mistaken and that a drug dog should be brought to the scene to sniff the car. His request was ignored, but after nearly an hour of searching, the closest things to drugs found were tobacco rolling papers and fresh juniper. The court of appeals and district court said the mere assertion that the smell of marijuana may have been present was good enough, and that it does not matter if the source of the smell turned out to be something entirely different. "We understand the district court's opinion to find that the troopers smelled marijuana in a subjective sense, and not to establish that the troopers smelled what was, in fact, marijuana," Circuit Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. wrote for the three-judge appellate panel. "Indeed, this court has repeatedly recognized the odor of raw marijuana establishes probable cause for a search. Once probable cause is established, troopers may search an entire vehicle." Abbo failed to overcome the protection given to law enforcement acting in the line of duty. The court found that the troopers had no reason to believe their actions constituted a constitutional violation. "For purposes of qualified immunity, we need not definitively resolve whether the officers had probable cause to search Mr. Abbo's car based on these precedents," Judge Matheson wrote. "We need only conclude Mr. Abbo has not demonstrated the law was so clearly established that reasonable officers would have known they were violating Mr. Abbo's rights by searching his car and seizing his person after smelling what they believed to be raw marijuana." A copy of the decision is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Abbo v. US (US Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, 12/30/2014)