Friday, April 10, 2009

California Appellate Court Confirms Fragility of Red Light Camera Cases – You Have to Fight to Win

California Appellate Court Slams Sacramento Red Light Camera Program
Appellate court rules Sacramento County, California red light camera
program does not produce sufficient evidence to convict drivers.
A decision issued last month by the Appellate Division of the
Superior Court in Sacramento County, California would invalidate
at least eighty percent of red light camera tickets in Sacramento
if drivers were to bring their case to court and contest their
citations. A three judge panel found the photo system did not
generate evidence sufficient to convict local motorist David Graham,
38, of running a red light.
"Sometimes you can fight city hall," said Graham. "Now those bozos
will have to give me back every penny of the $371 they bilked me
for the ticket."
On March 2, 2008, Graham's 1995 Oldsmobile was photographed by a
red light camera at the intersection of Power Inn Road and Folsom
Boulevard. However, unlike most newer programs in California, the
angle of the red light camera photographs in Sacramento County do not
actually show the signal light in the photograph itself. Instead,
a data box superimposed on the citation photo shows the letter "R"
which indicates that the signal was red, according to Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS), the for-profit company that operates the
program. That was not sufficient evidence for the appellate court.
"Without photographs showing appellant committing the violation,
the system must be proven reliable beyond a reasonable doubt in
order for the people to meet their burden of proof," Presiding
Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard wrote.
The police employee who testified in Graham's case, Officer Holt,
said that he had examined logs that showed an ACS technician
had maintained the camera properly and that there were no
malfunctions. Graham used the California Rules of Evidence to
challenge this claim as hearsay.
"We have no way of knowing what the technician did to reach these
conclusions, because that technician is not in court, and Officer
Holt admits to having no direct, personal knowledge of what the
technician did," Graham wrote in his brief to the court.
The court noted that the first photograph on Graham's citation
showed his Oldsmobile behind the limit line with cross traffic
facing a red -- not a green -- light.
"Given the evidence adduced at appellant's trial, this panel finds
that a rational trier of fact could not reasonably find, beyond a
reasonable doubt, that the light controlling appellant's entry into
the intersection was red when he first crossed the limit line,"
Judge concluded "Therefore, we find that substantial evidence does
not support appellant's conviction. The conviction is reversed with
directions to dismiss the complaint."
Graham is now asking the court to publish his case so that it will
have precedential value. California courts have protected red light
camera programs in the past by holding similar decisions unpublished
to prevent mass refunds from programs operating in ways that violate
California law.
A copy of the decision is available in a 150k PDF file at the source
link below.
Source: California v. Graham (California Superior Court, Appellate
Division, 2/20/2009)

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