11/30/2009Photo Enforcement Illegal in South Carolina
A 2006 attorney general ruling and a 2009 law ensure photo enforcement remains illegal in South Carolina.
Earlier this year the South Carolina General Assembly enacted a law that will make it even more difficult for red light camera and speed camera vendors to attempt to do business in the state. Under a provision that took effect on April 9, police are authorized to replace traditional handwritten citations with "electronic traffic tickets" designed to speed the roadside ticketing process. These electronic citations, however, cannot be used as part of a photo enforcement system.
"An electronic traffic ticket must consist of at least one printed copy that must be given to the vehicle operator who is the alleged traffic violator and as many as three additional printed copies if needed to communicate with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the police agency, and the trial officer," South Carolina Code Section 56-7-20 now states.
Requiring that such tickets be handed to the operator of the vehicle, as opposed to the registered owner, will prevent the use of automated ticketing machines. According to a February 1, 2006 ruling by the office of state Attorney General Henry McMaster, municipalities are prohibited from creating local ordinances in an attempt to bypass legal restrictions of this type.
"You have questioned whether a county council is authorized to create an ordinance against speed along with establishing civil penalties and remedies for that violation," Senior Assistant Attorney General Charles H. Richardson wrote in a letter to Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner regarding photo radar. "In my opinion, such a speeding ordinance would not be authorized."
Richardson argued that existing state law covers the offense of speeding by establishing a certain level of fines and license points as punishment. Article VIII, Section 14 of the state Constitution prohibits local governments from setting aside "criminal laws and the penalties and sanctions thereof." Tanner had asked about setting up a civil penalty system to issue speed camera citations.
"It appears that there would be a conflict between the proposed ordinance and the state law prohibiting speeding in that there would be no criminal violation tracked or points assessed against the driver but, instead, there would be a civil penalty imposed," Richardson wrote. "As to your question of whether it would be legal for a law enforcement agency to send citations to a registered owner by certified mail, no state law authorizes the use of such process."
Richardson cited a 1996 opinion declaring that those who wish to install photo enforcement systems must first receive approval for their plans from the state legislature.
A copy of the 2006 opinion from the South Carolina Attorney General's Office is available in a 175k PDF file at the source link below.