1/30/2012New Mexico Supreme Court Considers Photo Enforcement Cases
Highest court in New Mexico hears argument on constitutionality of speed cameras.
New Mexico's highest court will hear arguments tomorrow in challenge to the legality of the red light camera and speed camera program in Albuquerque known as "STOP." Voters last October rejected the automated ticketing machines operated by Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia, but the state supreme court's decision could impact other cities that still allow private companies to issue traffic tickets through the mail.
The justices are reviewing a pair of unpublished decisions in which the state court of appeals tossed out class action suits filed against Albuquerque last year. Tuesday's arguments will be based on a November 2006 speed camera ticket that Redflex mailed to Turner W. Branch, an experienced trial lawyer. When Branch did not pay the citation, Redflex sent a notice that demanded a $600 payment and threatened to confiscate his vehicle.
Turner argued that Albuquerque violated the state constitution by setting up its own inferior administrative courts to rule upon violations covered by the state vehicle code. This tribunal treats a criminal violation as a civil matter by declaring it a "public nuisance" to avoid providing full due process protections to vehicle owners accused by a machine. A split three-judge appeals court panel rejected these arguments, citing a March 2011 decision Titus v. Albuquerque.
"The council observed that 'many states and municipalities across the country have experienced decreases in red light violations by using red light cameras' and that this technology 'saves lives,'" Judge James J. Wechsler wrote for the majority. "Accordingly, the council concluded that the use of red light cameras and the implementation of photographic and electronic equipment to enforce speed limits would abate these nuisances... Given the council's findings, we can think of no circumstance where speeding or violating stop lights in Albuquerque would not pose a threat to the safety of the citizens of Albuquerque. Accordingly, we conclude that Albuquerque acted within its municipal authority as provided in Section 3-18-17(A) in enacting STOP and designating speeding and red light infractions nuisances."
Judge Michael E. Vigil strongly disagreed with his appellate court colleagues. He argued the program cannot have safety as its primary motivation because it seeks to collect penalties from individuals who did nothing wrong.
"STOP makes the mere owner of the vehicle absolutely liable for the fine imposed because of another person's act of driving," Vigil wrote in his dissent in the Titus case. "It therefore appears that the purpose of this scheme is to generate revenue income for Albuquerque, and not to abate the nuisance of speeding.... By penalizing a person or entity which does nothing except merely own a vehicle which is driven by another person over the posted speed limit, STOP is contrary to New Mexico law and unconstitutional. Since the majority disagrees, I dissent."
The state supreme court heard arguments on the Titus case on November 16.
A copy of the Titus case is available in a 350k PDF file at the source link below.