6/2/2015Florida Appeal Court Punts On Reliability Of Camera Evidence
Appellate court finds Florida law too confusing to rule definitively in red light camera case.
The second highest court in Florida decided last Friday that it would not decide whether red light camera evidence was good enough to be used in a court of law. The problem, a three-judge panel reasoned, is that the state's red light camera statute is so ambiguous that reasonable people could read the law and come to opposite conclusions as to its meaning.
Motorists William Clark, Nicole Rivera, and Jose Torres Ortiz had argued that the photographs of alleged violations that they received in the mail should have been authenticated before being accepted as evidence at trial, just like any other exhibit. Local governments do not want to go to the expense of paying employees of the private, for-profit vendors to come to court to testify regarding the authenticity of the photographs taken by the machines. So they insist that the photo tickets are "self-authenticating."
A trial judge agreed with the drivers and threw out the tickets, but prosecutors appealed to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court's appellate division, which sided with local governments. The judges on the Court of Appeal found the law so ambiguous that they did not want to get involved. Since the circuit court's reasoning was not outrageous, it could stand.
"The legislature expressly provided in the statute that this evidence is admissible in any proceeding to enforce red light camera violations, leaving it unclear whether the legislature, by its wording of the statute, equated admissibility with self-authentication," the appellate panel wrote Friday. "Because the lower court was left with this unclear language, and because no Florida appellate court has squarely addressed this issue, we conclude that certiorari relief is not warranted as the circuit court did not violate a clearly established principle of law."
The judges recognized that there might be a value in creating a precedent, but they did not wish to do so here. Florida's circuit courts are meant to have the final say on appeal, so the Court of Appeal has a power of review limited to deciding whether the circuit court applied the law correctly and afforded due process to defendants.
The judges noted that state lawmakers modified the red light camera statute in 2013, eliminating the rules of evidence in photo ticket hearings. The judicial panel reasoned that questions of how the law applied to tickets issued in 2012 and before would not be relevant now.
A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.