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New Mexico Judge Finds Speed Cameras Violate Due Process
Judge rules photo enforcement ticket hearings in Las Cruces, New Mexico deprive defendants of due process.

Judge Manuel I. Arrieta
A New Mexico district court judge last month found the hearings offered to recipients of red light camera and speed camera tickets in the city of Las Cruces violated due process. Dona Ana County Presiding Judge Manuel I. Arrieta issued a 31-page ruling after having the issue under his consideration for nearly two-and-a-half years. Las Cruces has already filed an appeal.

A hearing officer found Cristobal Rodriguez guilty of speeding based solely on information provided by Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia, 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, but the Las Cruces ordinance finds the owner guilty unless someone else steps up and pays the ticket. Rodriguez argued that this violated his due process rights because the evidence used against him at the hearing was hearsay.

Judge Arrieta adopted the Court of Appeals ruling in Titus v. Albuquerque that upheld the ordinance as valid under the state constitution. That decision is currently under review by the New Mexico Supreme Court. The Rodriguez case focused solely on the evidence produced by Redflex, an issue the Court of Appeals did not consider.

Under the state law authorizing photo enforcement, hearings must operate under the rules of evidence used by the district courts. The Las Cruces ordinance states that "photographs or other electronic evidence of a violation is authentic, is not hearsay, and shall be admitted into evidence." Judge Arrieta found this in direct violation of the state rules of evidence regarding hearsay and the authentication of evidence.

"In this case, the legislature mandated the use of the rules of evidence," Judge Arrieta ruled. "It was the city in enacting the subject ordinance that altered or prohibited the use of critical evidence rules... The power to pass an ordinance establishing a rule of evidence binding on the courts is not granted to cities expressly by statute and is not fairly implicit from or incident to powers expressly given to cities nor essential to accomplishment of objects or purposes of such powers."

The court also found that even if the administrative process applied, and hearsay evidence could be considered, the evidence submitted by Redflex -- a photograph with a speed reading imprinted on it -- would not be sufficient.

"The problem is that the videos and the photographs alone do not implicate appellant in any violation; at most they demonstrate that it is appellant's vehicle in the picture due to the license plate information," Judge Arrieta ruled. "Determining the speed of a vehicle by various coefficients is not normally within the common experience of a lay person and requires foundational predicates laid by an expert witness."

The court posed a number of unanswered questions regarding the accuracy and reliability of the system raised from the written explanation of how the camera system works that was submitted to the court.

"How does age, temperature, weather and the current physical road conditions affect the components and calculation?" asked Judge Arrieta. "How does a computer account for a 'known wheel base' given the different sizes and types of vehicles on the road? If these questions and others cannot be answered, then the hearing officer can only assume guarantees of reliability and trustworthiness."

The judge ordered the hearing officer's judgment reversed.

A copy of the decision is available in a 2mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File New Mexico v. Rodriguez (Dona Ana County, New Mexico District Court, 5/2/2013)

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