Photo ticket profiteers will stop at nothing to discourage motorists from fighting and beating unfair camera tickets. Their latest ploy comes in the form of California Assembly Bill 666, which would require ticket camera cases to be heard in administrative hearings, not in real courts of law.
This change would effectively deny motorists key due process rights (such as the right to discovery and to confront witnesses) and further stack the deck in favor of those who benefit from camera revenue. For more information on the insidious nature of administrative hearings, check out E-newsletter #219: Resistance is not Futile.
To illustrate the true impact of a bill like AB 666, let’s look at what can happen when a camera-ticket recipient exercises his due process rights in a court of law.
Gant Bloom received a red-light camera ticket in St. Louis and decided to defend himself in court. He did not deny that the image of his car had been captured by the ticket camera, but because he did not receive the ticket until several weeks later, he could not honestly determine whether he or his girlfriend was driving the car at the time.
Bloom’s opening statement included a summary of his strategy: “I decided it just wasn’t fair for me to admit guilt to something I didn’t even know if I did or not. The only physical evidence that the prosecution is going to show you is that it was my car running through a red light. That I don’t deny. I don’t believe the City can satisfy this court that it was me who committed that crime. And furthermore, I intend to demonstrate reasonable doubt that it was me driving that day.”
Bloom’s girlfriend testified that the two of them had conferred and could not determine who was driving at the time of the alleged violation. The prosecuting attorney spent several minutes questioning a representative of American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and the local police officer who reviewed the citation to establish a foundation for what the photo evidence proved, in addition to how that evidence was collected, reviewed, and ultimately resulted in a ticket. In contrast, Bloom, who isn’t an attorney, asked only one question of the ATS employee and three questions of the officer.
His logic was elegant and simple, and points out the fallacy of red-light cameras as a fair means of enforcing intersection traffic regulations.
Bloom asked the ATS employee, “Sir, is there any way (for the cameras) to tell who was driving the car at the time of the violation?” The answer was, “No, there isn’t.”
Bloom then asked the police officer if he would attempt to identify the driver during an in-person traffic stop for running a red light. The answer was affirmative.
Next Bloom asked if the officer would issue a ticket if he wasn’t able to identify the driver. The officer responded, “No, if I couldn’t identify the driver, I wouldn’t issue a ticket.”
Blooms’ final question for the officer: “If you pulled a car over and found out it was a different driver than who was the registered owner of the car, would you issue a citation to the car, to the registered owner who is not driving, or would you issue the citation to whoever was driving the car?” The answer, of course, from the officer was that he would ticket the driver.
The judge found in favor of Bloom and charged court costs to the City of St. Louis.
Bloom’s defense and the judge’s decision drew the critical distinction between a presumption of innocence and a presumption of guilt. Bloom prevailed in a court of justice, something that would not have been possible in an administrative hearing where those pesky due process rights are routinely quashed.
In California alone there are thousands of motorists charged with unfair traffic violations who, for now, have the opportunity to defend themselves. Curtailing their due process rights through administrative hearings would make it nearly impossible for them to do so. Here’s why:
- Even if the vehicle owner wasn’t driving and doesn’t know who was, he is still responsible for paying the fine.
- No additional evidence beyond the ticket itself is needed for a conviction.
- The defendant will not have the right to confront the witnesses against him.
- The defendant will not have the right to request discovery in order build a defense.
AB 666 is just one example of the further assault on drivers’ rights. In New York City, administrative hearings are already the norm for traffic violations. If AB 666 is enacted, count on state lawmakers around the country, urged on by their camera company conspirators, to introduce similar bills in their own states.