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1/21/2009
California Appellate Court Overturns Conviction for Running a Green Light
Los Angeles County Appellate Court overturns red light camera conviction of a woman who ran a light that was simultaneously red and green.

Red light and green light
An appellate court last Wednesday vindicated a woman who had been convicted by a Santa Monica, California trial court after a red light camera ticketed her for running traffic lights that showed both red and green signals. The motorist, who asked only to be identified by her last name, Williams, had been driving her Chrysler in Culver City on the morning of March 29, 2007. When she looked at the signal nearest her at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Helms Avenue, she saw the light was green and proceeded. She was then surprised by the flashing of a red light camera and further confused days later when she received a letter mailed by Redflex Traffic Systems that contained a photograph showing her running a red light and a demand for $380.

Knowing something must be wrong, Williams looked more closely at the photos taken by the red light camera system that day. She soon discovered that the light closest to her line of vision was green, but the overhead traffic signal was red (view uncropped image). Regardless, Culver City Police Sergeant Allan Azran insisted that both lights were red.

"We've had our traffic engineers check it," Azran testified. "It's just because the flash goes off at this instant. Sometimes it may appear that the lights are doing different things."

Sergeant Azran presented Williams with the video evidence before trial and suggested that she plead guilty in order to take traffic school to avoid license points. Azran explained in court why the other signal was not visible.

"The video camera in order to capture the necessary footage, does not have coverage for that particular, uh, for that particular signal," Azran replied.

That was good enough for court Commissioner Pamela Davis who quickly found the driver guilty.

"Based on the evidence presented today, um, and notwithstanding your presentation or I guess the copies of the copy of the, you know the, the evidence that you presented in the court's opinion isn't the best evidence of this specific date and time and the violation itself," Davis ruled. "I understand what you're trying to, uh, explain after the fact, however, with all due respect, it's clear to the court from the evidence presented that the light phase is red... The court believes based on the totality of the evidence presented, that the light phasing phased to red on this date and time, clearly red not green and red, or green on one light and red on the other. The court does find you guilty as charged ma'am."

Davis, who is notorious for siding against drivers in traffic court, refused to certify the verbatim court transcript that the defendant had commissioned at her own expense. Davis knew that it would be next to impossible to have her decision overturned on appeal without a certified transcript as part of the record.

The photos themselves, submitted as part of a motion to augment the record on appeal, were enough for the Los Angeles County Superior Court Appellate Division to decide that this case had been mishandled.

"When defendant approached the intersection, there were two inconsistent traffic signals: one that was green, directing her to proceed, and one that was red, directing her to stop," the unanimous three-judge appellate panel concluded. "Not surprisingly, traffic signals facing in the same direction must display the same information for through traffic in order to avoid driver confusion and the likelihood of accidents... The prosecution therefore failed to prove the essential elements of a violation... that defendant failed to stop when 'facing a steady circular red signal alone,' and on this basis, we must reverse defendant's conviction."

The appellate decision does not affect the cases of several other motorists convicted by Davis at that same intersection while one of the traffic lights showed green. A full copy of the appellate court decision is available in a 3.5mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File California v. Williams (California Superior Court, Appellate Division, 1/14/2009)

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