11/5/2013New York: Trial Court Judge Defends Red Light Cameras
New York state trial court judge embraces the red light camera program in Rochester.
The city of Rochester, New York won the first round Friday in a major legal fight against the use of red light cameras. A New York State Supreme Court judge for Monroe County rejected an attempt to shut down the devices as unconstitutional. Unlike most states, the supreme court is the first rung on the state court system with the New York Court of Appeals enjoying the final say in legal matters.
Lawrence Krieger, an attorney, filed his case after Rochester's vendor, American Traffic Solutions, mailed him a $50 ticket. The car Krieger owned was photographed on December 22, 2012 turning right on red at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Court Street. In January, Krieger appeared before a city employee who found him guilty in an administrative hearing.
Krieger asserts the ticketing process deprives the accused of their due process rights by presuming their guilt merely because they were mailed a ticket. The appeals process is a sham, Krieger argued, because the system is designed to make a meaningful defense impossible. Such arguments are difficult to make, as courts presume municipal enactments have an "exceedingly strong" presumption of constitutionality and judges are only allowed to strike them down if there is no plausible claim of a "legitimate government interest" in the way the ordinance operates.
The city of Rochester supplied affidavits from the mayor, the city attorney, city engineer and other employees, all of whom insisted the cameras were about safety. That was enough for Judge J. Scott Odorisi.
"Even taking as true plaintiff's argument that the cameras are proving to be ineffective, such an outcome is irrelevant and cannot be used to retroactively invalidate the legislative intent," Judge Odorisi wrote in his ruling. "The soundness of legislative intent must be assessed against the facts known at the time the legislative body acted, not as they presently stand."
Judge Odorisi insisted that the evidence that the camera program has failed to decrease accidents is more properly used to lobby the legislature against renewing the program when the authorizing statute expires on December 1, 2014. The court also insisted the low level of due process is appropriate for a civil violation, allowing the city to dispense with such protections as the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause.
"The modest $50 penalty is not so substantial as to infringe upon a person's private property rights," Judge Odorisi wrote. "The risk of erroneously depriving the plaintiff of his private interests is nominal as sufficient procedural safeguards are in place."
A copy of the decision is available in a 5mb PDF file at the source link below.