Ruling Revolutionizes Red Light Camera Tickets

by jeremy on April 5, 2012

While it might not be on the level of Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education, a recent ruling by an Orange County appellate court may be just as groundbreaking… in the world of red light camera traffic tickets.

In People v. Khaled, a panel of judges in Santa Ana reviewed a conviction of the defendant on a red light violation. The evidence presented consisted of a video of Khaled driving through an intersection after the light had turned red and the testimony of a Santa Ana police officer. While the officer regularly testified on these types of cases (in fact, is common for these officers to do so dozens of times in a single day), the camera itself was installed and maintained by a private company which had contracted with the city to issue red light tickets. This formula of private company installation and maintenance of the camera plus a police officer testifying to the placement and accuracy of the device has resulted in literally tens of thousands of convictions since red light cameras were invented.

However, the rules of evidence, which are often somewhat ignored in traffic courts, require that for video or photographic evidence to be admissible, a proper foundation must be laid. This means there must be testimony from someone with personal knowledge to say under oath that the camera was in proper working order at the time the picture was taken and that the picture was taken at the place and time alleged.

And this is where the court found the problem on appeal. The officer called to testify against Khaled had no personal knowledge of how the system was maintained or how the date and times were verified, and could only offer general information on how the system worked. Without any evidence to lay the proper foundation, the evidence of the video was inadmissible. And without the video, there was no evidence against Khaled, and his was conviction was overturned.

For now, the ruling will only be binding on courts in Orange County. However, the legal reasoning is sound and may be soon followed in other counties as well. County officials are planning to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

The effect of the ruling is still largely unknown. Some cities in Orange County have begun simply dismissing tickets. Others are pressing forward with prosecutions; most likely hoping defendants haven’t become aware of the decision in Khaled. If the ruling holds up, several solutions are possible, all of which will raise the cost of red light enforcement by municipalities. Potential reactions could include requiring the testifying officer to receive much more in depth training, or having a representative from the company that installed the camera testify as well.

For now, everyone cited for a red light camera violation, for which a conviction results in a fine around $450 plus a point on a person’s driving record, should fight the charge. For those in Orange County, a dismissal should be just about guaranteed. For those outside the county in California, while dismissal will not be automatic, the influential value of Khaled should be extremely important.

For more information regarding how you can fight your red light ticket, contact us today.

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