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Federal Appeals Court Sides with Louisiana Red Light Cameras
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds red light cameras and speed cameras in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Red light cameraPhoto enforcement systems have found a more receptive audience before the federal bench than in state courts. The trend continued Monday as the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals sided with the automated ticketing program operated by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) in New Orleans, Louisiana. The opinion is unpublished, meaning the three-judge panel will not allow their finding to be cited as precedent in other cases.

Motorist Evelyn A. Bevis had filed suit arguing that, although the city's camera ordinance states photo tickets are civil violations, they are in effect criminal because of the way the punishments are imposed. Greater constitutional due process protections apply to violations that are considered criminal matters.

"(We) also argue that the ATES [Automated Traffic Enforcement System] ordinance is intended to promote public safety and deter violations," attorney Brian A. Gilbert argued. "Criminal statutes aspire to the same. Whether an ATES related fine is punitive or not can only be determined through effective discovery. Whether the penalties are punitive depends upon fact, not upon politicized and self-serving conclusions of the ATES' proponents and beneficiaries."

The three-judge panel disagreed, declaring the amount of the fine insufficient to trigger stricter protections for drivers.

"In this case, the maximum fine is the relatively minor amount of $380, or $455 if the payment is overdue," the court ruled. "No fundamental interest is involved here... The only factor favoring plaintiffs' position is the fact that some of the conduct that violates the ordinance would also be punishable as a crime, if done with the requisite mental state. That is not enough to overcome legislative intent. We agree with the district court that the ordinance imposes a civil penalty."

Though the decision sided with the city and ATS on all points, it did not close the door to future challenges on other grounds.

"The features of the ordinance's adjudicatory scheme raised in this appeal fall comfortably within the 'great leeway' given to governments in protecting public health and safety," the court explained. "We express no opinion regarding the due process adequacy of features of the ordinance's procedures that the plaintiffs did not specifically raise in their appellate briefing (e.g., the ordinance's distribution of burdens of proof and the potential liability for allowing another person to drive one's vehicle)."

A copy of the ruling is available in a 325k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Bevis v. New Orleans (US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, 6/11/2012)

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