Like most states that allow automated systems for issuing traffic tickets Florida legislated a system that assesses different fines and penalties for the same offence of violating a red light, depending on whether the ticket was issued by a police officer or through a ticket camera system.
If issued by a police officer the fine is much higher and penalty points are assessed against the violators drivers license. The camera ticket has a lower fine and no points are assessed against the operator’s license.
Broward County Judge, Fred Berman, authored a decision that proclaimed this dual system of punishment for the same crime violates the equal protection principle enshrined in the US Constitution (and any apolitical interpretation would find his decision correct).
However, the case that generated Judge Berman’s decision did not involve a camera ticket, rather it was a ticket issued by a police officer.
The Judge actually declared that a ticket issued by a police officer had much more serious consequences than a camera ticket and therefore the defendant was not being treated equally under the law, in comparison to other persons who violated the same law. Thus, the law is unconstitutional.
We have long felt that automated ticketing systems do not pass the smell test for many reasons:
- The long delay between the supposed violation and the date when notification is received by the defendant.
- The acceptance of photo evidence without any corroborating support or verification.
- No live witness that can be questioned by the defendant.
- Economic motivations of the government and private contractors to create revenue generating violations.
- Denial of access to real due process.
- Piling on extra fees and fines for those who challenge the tickets in court and lose.
- Using first class mail for formal notification of violations and court dates.
However, the equal protection issue will not be easily ignored or danced around by the political jurisdictions that run ticket camera programs.
Unequal treatment under the law is not absolutely prohibited, constitutionally, but there must be a rational basis for the unequal protections granted one segment of the public to the exclusion of another segment of the public.
A typical example is the accommodations and services extended to handicapped persons, but not the general population.
The rational basis for allowing this unequal treatment is fairly obvious. Conversely, fining one person $75 and fining another person $400 for the same violation under identical circumstances does not have a rational basis, at least in any legitimate manner.
Unless the camera merchants can pull a real legal rabbit out of the hat, this issue is not going away any time soon.
For more information on red light cameras, check out our red light camera issue page. ♦