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Red Light Cameras: Legal or Unconstitutional?

Let's take a deeper look into this hot-button issue in Florida.

One of my favorite targets for my stories is my own father.  He is the antithesis of an attorney.  He never listens to a single thing I say.  He will call me for legal advice. I will give him legal advice for free. He will then tell me that I am absolutely wrong and hang up on me. He is also getting older and his eyes are getting worse. He has trouble reading a menu and refuses to use glasses.

Recently he gave me an envelope where there was a picture of him running a red light in a left-hand turn somewhere that I choose to keep anonymous. Attached was a ticket for $158.00 unless he contested the ticket. 

Now, I must brag a little bit: I have more than perfect vision: I see from 10 feet like most people see from 20 feet.  To me it was clear the light was red, that he was in the middle of the intersection, and so I recommended that he simply pay the fine.  My father looked long and hard at the photo and said, “yea, Jeremy, you’re wrong.  I don’t see the red” (recall eyesight issues above).

So my father took the ticket to an officer in the county that remains anonymous and the officer agreed. The ticket was dropped. But then my father asked a great question: “Why can a camera make me pay?”

My initial thought was that photographic evidence and video evidence is far more reliable than witness testimony. But there is no one behind the camera. It is automated.

We know that radar guns are used to detect our speed, but we have someone behind the gun. We know those scary TSA machines that show all my birthday secrets to some CIA or FBI agents (according to some conspiracy theorists) while I am in the airport are at least accompanied by an officer. 

So how do we contest these “red light cameras” when they are completely automated?

The issue seems to be heating up in the State of Florida. As it stands now, red light cameras are legal. In 2010, red-light camera operations were approved by amending or creating at least 13 separate sections of Florida Statutes: Chapter 316, Chapter 318, Chapter 321, and Chapter 322. 

However, in 2005 when the red-light camera issue was first getting warm, Attorney General Charlie Christ issued an opinion that red light traffic tickets could not be issued without an officer present.  (AGO 2005-41 dated July 12, 2005). The Attorney General’s 2005 legal position seems to have been taken seriously now as there are at least two cases on Florida’s eastern coast that are challenging the red light camera laws. One case that is easy to track is City of Aventura v. Masone, Case No. 3D10-1094 (Fla. 3d DCA).  According to my research, the Court has not yet made a determination on the constitutionality of the red light camera laws. The other case appears to still be at the trial level as a class action in Orlando. 

So, from my professional perspective, the Florida law that allows for red-light cameras is in full force and effect until further notice. One should not ignore the tickets. You can choose to pay the fine, contest the fine, or fight the law while contesting the fine. My father was successful by simply bringing the photograph to the sheriff’s office. Of course the validity may change completely depending on the court’s ruling in the coming months.

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid the red-light camera situation is to stop at red lights.  There are sources to find the red-light cameral intersections if you are a “yellow light” enthusiast. For example, Pasco County Clerk of Court has published this online source.

I found a local attorney based on my internet searches who posted this:  http://www.helpgoodpeople.com/lawyer-attorney-1809274.html

I found this information for Hillsborough County Red Light Cameras:  http://hillsboroughcounty.org/redforreason/home.cfm

Of course I always drive the speed limit, slow down at all yellow lights, and abide by all traffic laws, so I do not have any personal information regarding this subject (insert weird yellow smiley face thingy from my text messages here). Hopefully, my father will get in a bit of trouble next week for a new story.

Barb December 20, 2011 at 07:16 PM
If I run a red light (which I don't), I deserve a real live human being in a uniform to pull me over and hand me a ticket. Copping out of doing their job by installing very expensive cameras is certainly unconstitutional; after all, I have the right to face my accuser, not just in court (the camera's maintenance man???) but at the time of the violation.

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