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Federal Court Upholds Use of Red Light Cameras for Profit
US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit finds no due process problem with Chicago using red light cameras as a source of revenue.

Judge Frank Easterbrook
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit yesterday issued a ruling in defense of the lucrative red light camera program in Chicago, Illinois. Mayor Richard Daley (D) has made it clear that expansion of the existing 136 cameras, which so far have generated $110 million, is designed to increase the number of citations issued and close a gap in the 2009 budget. The three-judge federal court panel found this to be a good reason to install cameras.

"A system of photographic evidence reduces the costs of law enforcement and increases the proportion of all traffic offenses detected; these benefits can be achieved only if the owner is held responsible," Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote for the unanimous panel. "That the city's system raises revenue does not condemn it."

Lawyers for motorist Parveen Idris challenged Chicago's system, arguing that it violated the due process rights of vehicle owners held responsible for offenses they did not commit. The court brushed aside the concern by pointing out that the US Supreme Court has already upheld the seizure of automobiles even in cases where, "the owner may have nothing to do with the offense." Likewise, the taxpayer is held responsible for the math errors of an accountant who files a tax return with mistakes. Given these results, the appeals court saw no need to provide any due process protection in red light camera cases where the fine is comparatively small.

"The interest at stake is a $90 fine for a traffic infraction, and the Supreme Court has never held that a property interest so modest is a fundamental right," Easterbrook wrote.

The court suggested that a challenge to procedures used in Chicago's administrative red light camera hearings would be better heard in state courts. The opinion cited the Minnesota Supreme Court decision that found red light cameras in violation of the state constitution (view opinion).

A full copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Idris v. City of Chicago (US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 1/5/2009)

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