Recent news about red light cameras, like the cities of Loma Linda in California, then Houston, Texas, and now the city of Los Angeles doing away with them, have been disturbing for those concerned with road safety, and encouraging for those who believe red light camera tickets have become an aggressive tactic by municipal government to squeeze money out of motorists. The cities did away with the automated ticketing systems, despite evidence that the cameras prevent the most horrific and fatal type of accidents, the ones where a driver barrels through an intersection on a red light and gets into a side-impact collision. I appreciate the technology of an automated system to record by video and photograph the people who violate traffic laws, and I even believe the technology can be used to bring safety to people on the road. The implementation so far, however, leaves a lot to be desired.
On Monday, December 13, 2010, during the 2pm hour, Gil Gross, news-talk host on KGO radio, interviewed Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel on her 77 page critique of the red light camera program. She made the point that 2/3 of red light camera tickets are for rolling right-on-reds, i.e., turning right on a red without coming to a complete stop. Wendy came to the conclusion that red light cameras cost Los Angeles more than the city collects in fines; the state of California taking a portion of these fines is one reason, but another reason is people are not paying the fines, and getting away with this because they can still renew their licenses with the DMV. In a damning rebuke of municipal greed, Wendy found that where the city puts these cameras are not where the most dangerous intersections are, but where they are easiest to install, i.e., where the city didn't have to work through a state process for an intersection near a state highway, or where there was the same kind of physical infrastructure at an intersection that the equipment installers had worked with before, and could easily work with again.
I was convicted of a red light camera traffic ticket on Tuesday, July 12, 2011, even though at trial I felt I presented a strong case with convincing arguments. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, how to file a stay of judgment, my read of the judge was he just didn't want to hear what I had to say. Fair enough, judges can do whatever they want in their courtroom, and he certainly wouldn't be the first person to reject whatever may be contradictory to what he wants to believe! The great thing about the criminal justice system (yes, a traffic ticket means you are being charged with a crime) is you can appeal your conviction when you've been found guilty of an infraction, which most traffic tickets are. If you don't want to pay the ticket, you either have to hire a lawyer, or invest a lot of time learning how to do this on your own. The first step to an appeal is filing a proposed notice of appeal, but before you can do so, you must do a lot of research, reading, writing, and preparation, using resources like highwayrobbery.net and Fight Your Ticket & Win in California. In California, you need to download from the internet or ask the court clerk for the CR-141-INFO packet, which gives you information on appeal procedures for infractions.
One of the main pillars of my defense at trial was the rule of "best evidence", which means in court the government has to submit their sharpest photos and video as evidence, and not some fuzzy copies. Under California Evidence Code 1520, otherwise known as the Secondary Evidence Rule, if submitting a document, the government has to provide an uncondensed version, not a summary or memo. On the website, at photonotice.com, where you can view your alleged violation, there is a disclaimer (which as of 5pm today, I've confirmed is still there) which states: "Due to formatting constraints this video is a representation of the original evidence and is not intended for court purposes...The video you are viewing on this website is provided as a courtesy and convenience to you. The video is in no way purported to be a true and correct copy of evidence that will be presented in court."
Because I asked the government numerous times to give me their best evidence, which are the high-resolution photos and video captured by the Redflex cameras, and said evidence was never provided to me, then for the purposes of trial, the rule of best evidence was never satisfied. At trial, the police service technician may have, on her laptop, access to the evidence you requested, and she may offer to show it to you, but since you asked for the evidence before trial, so you could prepare for your defense, and that evidence was never given to you, you can ask the judge to throw out the high-resolution copy that the police have and plan to use against you. If the judge throws out the high-resolution copy (which, in my case, did not happen), the police have no evidence against you, unless they decide to submit a lower resolution copy, or the officer might refer to the low res copy given to you in discovery. However, you can object to the admission of the low res copy under the rule of "best evidence".
The second step in an appeal is to file an opening brief, which the district attorney can respond to by filing a respondent's brief (this is unlikely in an infraction case). Filing an opening brief is mandatory, and after all the briefs have been filed, or the time to to serve and file them has passed, the court will schedule a date for oral argument. Below is what I submitted as my opening brief:
Red light cameras depend heavily on legal faith in a certificate that claims to confirm the total reliability of a machine's calibration and accuracy in detection, tracking, and overall synchronicity with the system of lights and cameras. Despite the possible hassle involved in confirming each fact at trial, it is essential to the integrity of the court system that questioning of the evidence be allowed. On the basis of my right to challenge the human elements of the evidentiary chain, I submit this appeal.Update: After a year and a half battle, I won my case on appeal in Superior Court, as detailed in this latest blog entry: Fight your red light ticket, and win!
Commissioner Culver's trial court ruling was not supported by substantial evidence because there was no live testimony by any person actually involved in the preparation or production of the crucial evidence. I have a right to confront witnesses under the 6th Amendment, as affirmed by the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz versus Massachusetts. In addition, the website where representations of the evidence can be reviewed, photonotice.com, states the following (copied verbatim, and current as of October 12, 2011): "Due to formatting constraints this video is a representation of the original evidence and is not intended for court purposes." I made multiple requests to the police and the city for the best evidence, i.e., the high resolution photos and video recorded by the Redflex cameras, by serving Dominique Burton, the agent of process for the city of Emeryville, by asking Rebecca Sylvester, Emeryville police technician, in person at the police station for said evidence, and by asking Sergeant Mike Allen, Ms. Sylvester's superior, in emails. When my requests were not fulfilled, I twice asked Judge Culver during arraignment to schedule a motion hearing to hear my motion to compel discovery, and during the second time I requested a motion hearing, I submitted a printed copy of said motion to the court that asked the city of Emeryville to either provide me with the best evidence, or else preclude the evidence that would be used against me during trial. None of my requests were fulfilled. The evidence used against me in trial should have been precluded, because the city of Emeryville did not comply with my discovery request.
Commissioner Culver made the following errors:
- refused or ignored my numerous requests for a motion hearing to compel the city of Emeryville to provide me with the best evidence.
- did not preclude the evidence when I asked him to, under California Evidence Code 1520
- called up a witness, Sarah Rutherford, co-custodian of records for Redflex, when I as the defense was never notified in advance (according to rules of discovery) that she was going to testify.
- did not want to see or consider the 2 rulings of the higher court in Alameda County, copies of which I brought with me and which I attempted to show Commissioner Culver. Both of these appeals cases, People v Singh (January 2010) and People v Blankenship (May 2010), overturned similar trial court rulings resulting in convictions for said defendants in red light camera photo trials. In both of these cases, the appellate court reversed the lower court ruling due to violation of the defendant's right to confront witnesses under the 6th Amendment.
- denied my motion to dismiss based on violation of my right to due process under the 5th Amendment, i.e., no motion hearing was scheduled for me when I requested it.