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Iowa Supreme Court Reconsiders Speed Cameras
Due process questions with Sioux City's speed camera ordinance taken up by Iowa Supreme Court.

Michael Jon Jacobsma
The Iowa Supreme Court last month heard arguments in a case that could end the use of speed cameras and red light cameras in the state. Michael Jon Jacobsma is defending himself against an automated ticket issued by a private company in the name of Sioux City. He faces an uphill battle considering the high court in 2008 declared such systems could be used (view ruling) in a split 5 to 4 decision. The high court's ideological lines appeared not to have shifted much since.

Jacobsma, an attorney, is bringing a due process argument that the justices did not consider in the 2008 case, which focused exclusively on the legal question of whether an Iowa city had authority to install cameras without the permission of the state legislature. The new case will decide whether the system as implemented in Sioux City is constitutional.

On August 6, 2012 a camera belonging to Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia photographed Jacobsma's car on Interstate 29. The machine claimed the vehicle was traveling 67 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. Jacobsma objects to the presumption in the city ordinance that he is guilty of the offense simply because he owns the vehicle.

"It basically says, 'Congratulations Mr. Registered Owner of the Vehicle, your vehicle was photographed speeding and you now owe us money," Jacobsma told the justices. "Now this ordinance doesn't require the city to prove that the owner of the vehicle was the actual driver at the time. It doesn't have to prove that the owner authorized the speeding, nor does the city have to prove that the owner of the vehicle caused the speeding in any way."

Jacobsma argued that the "rebuttable" portion of the presumption is limited to the very narrow circumstance where the owner filed a stolen vehicle report.

"You had an opportunity to nominate someone -- pursuant to a vague ordinance," Justice Brent R. Appel said, challening Jacobsma. "You are the owner of the vehicle, and there's no record to the contrary before the magistrate. Is that problematic?"

Justice Appel penned the previous decision saving the state's speed cameras. Jacobsma said the ordinance does not require the city to find the person "nominated" to be responsible for the fine, so even if the owner offers proof of innocence, he can still be found guilty under the ordinance. At least one of the justices agreed that the system was vague.

"To you as a person who received a ticket, did you know what a nominated party was -- how to present the defense?" Justice David S. Wiggins asked. "Did the ordinance tell you that stuff?"

Justice Wiggins led the dissent from the court's 2008 endorsement of speed cameras. Sioux City's attorney, Justin R. Vondrak, insisted the photo ticketing ordinance is the model of due process.

"We're at the highest court, we can't go any further than this, and Mr. Jacobsma is allowed to make his argument before you," Vondrak told the justices.

Justice Wiggins asked Vondrak what would happen if he nominated Vondrak as the one who ran the red light.

"Don't you think due process requires the city to give notice of what they have to do and what presumptions are there and what presumptions are rebuttable?" Justice Wiggins asked. "Isn't that the essence of due process? To be given notice from the ordinance of what you do and don't do?"

Vondrak countered that this was common practice among the cities that use automated ticketing machines.

"Does that make it constitutional?" Justice Wiggins asked. "You know, in the old days they don't let blacks go to white schools. It doesn't mean it was constitutional. It was a widely held practice."

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