2/23/2015Iowa Supreme Court Backs Speed Cameras
Highest court in Iowa decides that cities can set up their own tribunals to decide guilt in photo enforcement cases.
The Iowa Supreme Court stepped in Friday to save red light cameras and speed cameras from the challenge of lawyer and motorist Michael Jon Jacobsma. The justices fell back on their 2008 decision that gave municipalities permission to use automated ticketing machines, even though the state legislature had declined to do so (view 2008 ruling).
Jacobsma brought due process concerns that the court had not previously considered. He said the speeding tickets that Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian company, issued on behalf of Sioux City were being sent to individuals who were not responsible for the alleged violation. Redflex sent Jacobsma a ticket on August 6, 2012 after photographing a car registered in his name. The Sioux City ordinance would not allow him to escape liability unless he mailed in a stolen vehicle report.
For added authority, the Iowa court cited the highest court in Washington, DC, which enthusiastically backed the city's lucrative camera program as well as the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals decision in Chicago (view ruling). The Iowa court determined that Jacobsma did not lose anything important if he was fined for an offense that he did not commit.
"Jacobsma does not appear to have a conventional liberty interest," Justice Appel wrote. "He can drive his car anywhere he wants, subject to the laws of the road. He can loan his car to anyone he wants. His right to self-fulfillment or his right to be left alone do not seem implicated by the Sioux City ATE ordinance in any meaningful sense."
The court sidestepped the question of the justice of fining people for offenses that they did not commit by saying that Jacobsma did not affirmatively prove that he was not the driver. Jacobsma rested on the notion that the prosecution had the burden of proving that he was the driver.
"But because Jacobsma offered no evidence beyond the stipulations that he was the owner of the vehicle and that the vehicle was involved in an infraction, the questions of whether and how a defendant may rebut a city's case and whether the ordinance comports with due process when faced with evidence that someone other than the registered owner was operating the vehicle at the time of the infraction, pose purely academic questions that are not before the court," Justice Appel wrote.
That was enough for the court to preserve Iowa's photo ticketing systems -- for now.
"In contrast, the presumption in this case that, absent proof to the contrary, the registered owner was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the infraction is not very complicated and is eminently reasonable," Justice Appel wrote. "We therefore conclude there is no due process violation under article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution... We reserve for another day the question of whether an ordinance that strictly imposes vicarious liability in all circumstances offends the due process clause of the Iowa Constitution."
A copy of the decision is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.