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4/18/2011
New Mexico Appeals Court to Take Speed Camera Challenge
New Mexico judge sends photo enforcement legal challenge to the state court of appeals.

Cristobal Rodriguez
A New Mexico district court judge on Thursday transferred a case challenging the legality of photo enforcement systems to the state's second highest court. In a written decision, Judge Manuel Arrieta suggested it would save time and expense for the court of appeals directly to weigh the case against Cristobal Rodriguez who was issued a photo ticket by the private company operating on behalf of the city of Las Cruces.

A hearing officer working for the mayor found Rodriguez guilty of speeding, even though the New Mexico State University educational management professor was not behind the wheel at the time of the offense. Rodriguez does not know who was driving, and the Las Cruces ordinance finds the owner guilty unless someone else steps up and pays the ticket. On January 20, Rodriguez filed an appeal to the district court, arguing that this procedure violated his due process rights under the constitution. He also argues that the photographs are hearsay, but the ordinance forbids motorists from raising any objections to the evidence. Because the ordinance authorizes confiscation of cars as a penalty, Rodriguez argued that the rules of criminal, not civil, procedure should apply. As the appeals court has already agreed to consider a similar case, Las Cruces v. Avallone Mechanical Company, it made sense for the district court to hold off on ruling in this case.

"The appeal challenging the STOP program raises constitutional issues which are of substantial public interest and are issues which will likely recur with some frequency," Judge Arrieta wrote. "The need for uniformity in the resolution of these issues is great and will result in advancing the interests of judicial economy and reduce future litigation."

Rodriguez, who is representing himself in the case, has an uphill legal battle. In 2007, District Court Judge Geraldine E. Rivera ruled that the city's use of a "nuisance" ordinance to confiscate vehicles was "civil in nature" and therefore the lower legal burden of an administrative hearing was appropriate. She also declared that a punishment of vehicle forfeiture for exceeding the speed limit by a few miles per hour was not an excessive. Judge Arrieta believed a decision either way would end up in a higher court.

"An appeal from any district court decision is highly likely such that certification in the first instance would serve the interests of judicial economy and reduce litigation costs," he concluded.

A copy of the order is available in a 700k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File New Mexico v. Rodriguez (Dona Ana County, New Mexico District Court, 4/5/2011)

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