12/7/2016Quebec, Canada Court Strikes Down Speed Camera Program
Justice of the peace in Quebec, Canada strikes down photo radar evidence as unreliable.
Last week's decision by a Quebec, Canada court is throwing the province's speed camera program into disarray. Presiding Justice of the Peace Serge Cimon tossed the $1160 ticket that had been mailed to Maria Carmela Bove after a camera accused her of traveling at 141km/h (88 MPH) in a 70km/h (44 MPH) zone on May 3, 2014.
When Bove fought the ticket in court, prosecutors ran into a big problem. Bove was able to demonstrate that the evidence was based on nothing more than hearsay. Prosecutors even lacked proof that there was actually a 70km/h speed limit sign at the Highway 15 South location where the speed camera issued had been positioned.
By the time each side rested their case, prosecutors realized they were going to lose. So they moved to drop the charges -- a common legal maneuver to avoid setting a precedent. Because the trial had already begun, the judge had to approve the request, and Judge Cimon refused to play along. Doing so, he said, would "distort procedural fairness" after Bove had gone to the effort of retaining a lawyer to defend herself.
"Especially since the prosecutor's request for withdrawal seems to be motivated by the fact that the court would be prevented from examining the defendant's claim that the evidence in respect of a fixed photographic speed camera is based on illegal and unacceptable hearsay evidence," Judge Cimon wrote.
The judge wanted to send a message to government officials after having reviewed the shoddy evidence produced at trial. The police officer brought in to testify about the presence of a speed limit sign did not specify whether the sign was placed before or after the speed camera. Under further examination, it became clear that the officer did not actually go out and verify the sign's presence personally, rather she saw the location on a list of speed limit signs at the police station.
"The court finds that this portion of the officer's testimony is totally hearsay and therefore has no probative value," Judge Cimon ruled.
Likewise, the judge found the officer's claim to have verified the speed camera's certification papers to be "totally false."
"In fact, the attestation made by the officer on her offense report is based entirely on information gathered and recorded by third parties," Judge Cimon ruled. "Not only is it hearsay evidence with no evidentiary value, but it is also a blatant violation of the criteria of Article 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure."
The judge made it clear that his problem was with the way all tickets in the province were handled, not just the peculiar circumstances of Bove's case. Because the law makes a photo radar ticket prima facie evidence of guilt -- that is to say, it is accepted at face value -- the government must be held to a high standard.
"As a result of this judgment, the prosecutor is now officially notified that the evidence at his disposal for the prosecution of fixed speed camera tickets is based on insufficient evidence," Judge Cimon concluded. "In the future, defendants can legitimately go to the court to request that the prosecutor be ordered to pay [attorney and court] costs if the prosecutor persists in filing evidence that he knows is unlawful. All the more so because the defendants must have lost hours of work, retained the services of a lawyer or had to demand the presence of the agent who signed the offense report in order to defend themselves."
A copy of the ruling in French is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.