7/28/2016Florida Appeal Court Saves Red Light Cameras
Appellate panel in Florida invites the state Supreme Court to resolve questions surrounding the legality of red light cameras.
Florida courts are split on red light cameras. On Wednesday, a Court of Appeal panel in the Third District registered its disagreement with the Fourth District (view ruling), setting the stage for the state Supreme Court to step in and resolve the split.
The new decision upheld a citation issued by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) on behalf of the city of Aventura. Lawyers for motorist Luis Torres Jimenez argued that state law requires a police officer to review citations, but the facts show ATS does all the work and local police merely rubber stamp those decisions. The appellate judges, to save the camera program, insisted that the opposite was the case.
"The vendor's decisions in this regard are strictly circumscribed by contract language, guidelines promulgated by the municipality, and actual practices, such that the vendor's decisions are essentially ministerial and non-discretionary," Judge Thomas Logue wrote for the Third District panel. "The officer's decision that probable cause exists and a citation issues consists of a full, professional review by an identified officer who is responsible for that decision and does not merely acquiesce in any determination made by the vendor."
Early contract language from 2008, when the use of red light cameras was illegal in Florida, shows Aventura's program began with the full intention of giving the vendor complete discretion in determining which citations should be issued. The appellate judges were satisfied that the city merely reworded the contract to comply with the state's red light camera authorization law in 2010. Under current procedures, a police officer receives a list of violations in bulk from ATS, and he must click a button to "accept" them.
"By doing so, the officer authorizes his or her electronic signature and badge number to appear on the notice and citation," Judge Logue wrote. "The officer's review and determination in this regard is far from a mere rubber stamp."
Aside from the button click, ATS takes care of everything else, including mailing citations, collecting payments and even transmitting the infractions to the court. This judicial panel was satisfied that the existence of a set of standard business rules between the city and ATS meant the Arizona company would not have "unfettered discretion" to decide who does and does not receive a citation. Even though ATS also runs the program in Hollywood, which the Fourth District panel struck down as unlawful, the Third District insisted the facts of the case are different.
"In particular, Arem is distinguished from the instant case because there was a different contract, there were no standards or guidelines promulgated by the municipality, the vendor determined probable cause, and the city officer merely acquiesced in the vendor's determination," Judge Logue wrote.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 160k PDF file at the source link below.