2/1/2013Illinois Appeals Court Defends Red Light Camera Program
Illinois Appellate Court finds red light cameras legal because a single photograph does not capture a moving violation.
Red light cameras in Chicago, Illinois survived a legal challenge in the state's second-highest court last week. The Illinois Appellate Court rejected a class action suit that argued the Windy City exceeded its authority when it began allowing a private company to issue photo tickets under a July 2003 ordinance, before state lawmakers gave permission for photo ticketing in 2006. As Chicago's program now has 191 cameras generating $70 million annually, the city's potential liability for refunds would have been in the hundreds of millions had the three-judge panel arrived at a different conclusion.
A handful of vehicle owners who banded together receiving tickets in the mail from Redflex. Their lawsuit argued the 2003 ordinance was unlawful, and because it was not re-adopted after the 2006 change in state law, all photo citations issued in Chicago have been invalid. The appellate judges did not accept the claim and insisted Chicago had every right to delegate ticketing operations to a foreign corporation under home rule authority. In Illinois, any city with a population over 25,000 can "perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs" under the state constitution, as modified in 1970.
The plaintiffs had argued that a specific state statute prohibits home rule units from adopting "regulations inconsistent" with state traffic laws, so that uniformity is preserved throughout the state. The state code also prohibits administrative adjudication of moving violations, and red light cameras in Illinois depend on civil procedures used for non-moving violations to minimize the cost of operations.
The three-judge panel rejected this argument by turning to the 2006 red light camera authorization statute as evidence that a photo ticketing scheme can be construed in a way that does not conflict with state law. Specifically, the court explained that red light cameras do not record moving violations because they take photographs. In effect, the court argued that the devices do not punish red light running, but unlawful presence in the middle of an intersection -- like a parking ticket.
"Although the red light cameras are triggered by the movement of vehicles through a red light, the camera is capturing a moment in time depicting the vehicle's use in disobeying a red light signal," Judge Aurelia Pucinski wrote for the court. "Thus, the city had home rule authority to enact traffic regulations that are not inconsistent with the Illinois Vehicle Code and do not regulate the movement of vehicles."
Though the plaintiffs' suit was ultimately rejected, the court upheld their right to file the challenge and rejected Chicago's attempt to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the vehicle owners had admitted guilt by voluntarily paying the ticket fines. The court found the payments were clearly coerced.
"To hold that payment of fines for citations under the city red light ordinance was 'voluntary' is to ignore the practical reality of duress to pay such citations issued by the city under the city's ordinances," Judge Pucinski wrote. "One would be hard-pressed to claim that a judgment, exposure to fees and costs, and potential immobilization of one's vehicle does not establish duress."
A copy of the decision is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.