Are red light cameras doomed to be a thing of the past? Local communities have been grappling with the justification of the red light camera machines for a while. The machines required to operate and issue red light camera tickets cost millions to install and maintain and for many municipalities they are discovering that those very machines are not netting the revenue that was hoped.
To make matters worse, the cost of the red light cameras has escalated significantly in the last couple of weeks.
In a decision entered on May 21, 2010, a Superior Court appellate panel ordered that a photo enforcement citation issued to Tarek Khaled be dismissed. In the last week, that ruling became final after the Court of Appeal denied transfer.
Tarek Khaled received a citation in August 2008 from the Santa Ana police. He was cited for “running” a red light. Tarek Khaled disputed the ticket and requested his day in court. At the trial, the prosecution sought to admit the photographs of Tarek “running” the red light to prove their case. The defense objected on the ground that the photographs, which had certain information entered on them such as the time and date they were taken, were inadmissible and hearsay. The Court Commissioner, Daniel Ornelas hearing the case, disagreed and admitted the photos and a supporting declaration from a police officer.
Upon review, the appellate panel agreed with the defense and said the objection should have been sustained and the pictures should not have been admitted.
It is a well founded principal of law that admission of a photograph or videotape requires testimony from the photographer or the person who took the video, or from a person who was present and witnessed the event that the photograph or video purports to depict, or from someone who has personal knowledge as to when the camera was started or stopped.
In the case of Tarek Khaled, the prosecution sought to have a police officer that was familiar with that specific intersection admit the testimony. The officer was unable to establish the time in question, the method of retrieval of the photographs, or that any of the photographs or the videotape were a reasonable representation of what it is alleged to portray.
The panel further rejected the argument that the photos could be admitted under the business records or official records exceptions to the hearsay rule because foundational requirements were not met. “The person or persons who maintain the system did not testify.” The panel explained. The panel further went on to rule: “Without these documents, there is a total lack of evidence to support the vehicle code violation in question.”
The result for local cities and municipalities that are utilizing these red light machines for traffic enforcement is that if an individual contests the citation the city may be unable to defend the ticket unless an expert from the city can appear in court and attest to the calibration of the machine and the time and date of the citation.
To make matters worse, cities may be flooded with appeals from people who were convicted as a result of red light enforcement machines and now will seek to overturn those convictions.
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