3/13/2009California Appellate Court Slams Sacramento Red Light Camera Program
Appellate court rules Sacramento County, California red light camera program does not produce sufficient evidence to convict drivers.
A decision issued last month by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court in Sacramento County, California would invalidate at least eighty percent of red light camera tickets in Sacramento if drivers were to bring their case to court and contest their citations. A three judge panel found the photo system did not generate evidence sufficient to convict local motorist David Graham, 38, of running a red light.
"Sometimes you can fight city hall," said Graham. "Now those bozos will have to give me back every penny of the $371 they bilked me for the ticket."
On March 2, 2008, Graham's 1995 Oldsmobile was photographed by a red light camera at the intersection of Power Inn Road and Folsom Boulevard. However, unlike most newer programs in California, the angle of the red light camera photographs in Sacramento County do not actually show the signal light in the photograph itself. Instead, a data box superimposed on the citation photo shows the letter "R" which indicates that the signal was red, according to Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the for-profit company that operates the program. That was not sufficient evidence for the appellate court.
"Without photographs showing appellant committing the violation, the system must be proven reliable beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the people to meet their burden of proof," Presiding Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard wrote.
The police employee who testified in Graham's case, Officer Holt, said that he had examined logs that showed an ACS technician had maintained the camera properly and that there were no malfunctions. Graham used the California Rules of Evidence to challenge this claim as hearsay.
"We have no way of knowing what the technician did to reach these conclusions, because that technician is not in court, and Officer Holt admits to having no direct, personal knowledge of what the technician did," Graham wrote in his brief to the court.
The court noted that the first photograph on Graham's citation showed his Oldsmobile behind the limit line with cross traffic facing a red -- not a green -- light.
"Given the evidence adduced at appellant's trial, this panel finds that a rational trier of fact could not reasonably find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the light controlling appellant's entry into the intersection was red when he first crossed the limit line," Judge concluded. "Therefore, we find that substantial evidence does not support appellant's conviction. The conviction is reversed with directions to dismiss the complaint."
Graham is now asking the court to publish his case so that it will have precedential value. California courts have protected red light camera programs in the past by holding similar decisions unpublished to prevent mass refunds from programs operating in ways that violate California law.
A copy of the decision is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.