Ticket Camera Photos Not Holding Up In California Courts

A recent story on TheNewspaper.com points out an encouraging trend in California. The courts are rejecting photo evidence generated by ticket cameras in the state.

There are now four California counties who have rejected the admissibility of red light camera photo evidence (the summaries below are directly quoted from the archives of TheNewspaper.com):

1) San Bernardino County

John Macias received a ticket in the mail after his car was photographed in Victorville on January 10, 2009 making a slow right-hand turn at a light that had been red for 0.36 seconds. His attorney, Robert D. Conaway, argued that when San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Baker testified as a witness against Macias, Baker had no personal knowledge of the facts of the case. As such, his evidence was hearsay. Baker countered that he had attended a 20-hour seminar provided by Redflex Traffic Systems, the for-profit Australian company that runs all aspects of the photo ticketing program for Victorville.

The three-judge appeals panel’s decision stated: “[Deputy Baker] did not, and could not, attest that the photos or videos were true representations of what they purported to depict because he had no such personal knowledge,” the appellate judges wrote. “In short, Deputy Baker failed to provide any of the evidence necessary to lay a foundation for the admission of the photographs or the videotape into evidence… Accordingly, the evidence was inadmissible under the Evidence Code section 1401, and the trial court abused its discretion by admitting it. In the absence of any admissible evidence to support the conviction, the judgment must be reversed.”

2) Kern County

On January 19, 2010, Judge Charles R. Brehmer found a motorist guilty after reviewing the material provided by Redflex Traffic Systems, the for-profit company in charge of automated ticketing in America. The evidence consisted of a video, photographs and a declaration from Redflex regarding the manner in which the material was collected.

The appellate judge was not impressed by its trustworthiness as the exception to the hearsay rule only applies to government employees. “The custodian of records works for a private company, which installs and services red light cameras,” Judge Colette Humphrey wrote in a December 23 ruling. “The witness who testified at trial was unable to establish the method and time of preparation of the evidence offered so as to indicate its trustworthiness. Therefore, the people failed to establish the foundation necessary for the admission of the video and photographs.” Because the lower court improperly admitted the evidence, Judge Humphrey overturned the decision and barred the state from attempting to refile charges on the grounds that there had been “significant prejudice to the appellant.”

Similarly, a three-judge panel of the appellate division of the Orange County Superior Court strengthened its decision on December 27. The court considered a case where a police officer offered expert testimony more comprehensive than previously attempted. Nonetheless, citing the Melendez-Diaz case from the US Supreme Court, the Orange County judges found that motorists had not relinquished their right to confront their accuser. The actual accuser, a Redflex employee, did not appear in court. “Section 1553 sets forth a presumption that a printed representation of a digitally stored image is an accurate representation of the image it purports to represent, but that presumption is rebutted in this case as to exhibit 1 by the people’s own evidence that the photos in that exhibit were ‘derived from’ (i.e., were enhanced/altered/modified from) the photos contained in Exhibit 3,” Presiding Judge Gregory H. Lewis wrote. Because the evidence was not admissible the charges were thrown out.

3) Orange County

On May 21, a three-judge panel of the California Superior Court, Appellate Division, in Orange County tossed out a red light camera citation in the city of Santa Ana in a way that calls into question the legitimacy of the way red light camera trials are conducted statewide. Previously, a string of brief, unpublished decisions struck at illegal contracts, insufficient notice and other deficiencies. This time, however, the appellate division produced a ten-page ruling and certified it for publication, setting a precedent that applies to the county’s three million residents.

“This appeal involves an issue far too often presented to this court, namely the admissibility of evidence and the statutory compliance with the procedures employed by several municipalities in this county in what have come to be known as ‘photo enforcement’ citations,” the unanimous ruling stated.

At trial, attorney R. Allen Baylis objected to the admission of the red light camera photographs because the city had failed to lay a proper foundation for the evidence. The court agreed.

“The photographs contain hearsay evidence concerning the matters depicted in the photograph including the date, time and other information,” the ruling summarized. “The person who entered that relevant information into the camera-computer system did not testify. The person who entered that information was not subject to being cross-examined on the underlying source of that information. The person or persons who maintain the system did not testify. No one with personal knowledge testified about how often the system is maintained. No one with personal knowledge testified about how often the date and time are verified or corrected. The custodian of records for the company that contracts with the city to maintain, monitor, store and disperse these photographs did not testify. The person with direct knowledge of the workings of the camera-computer system did not testify.”

4) San Mateo County

The Appellate Division of the county’s superior court overturned a red light camera ticket because the photographic evidence was ruled insufficient.

A red light camera had accused motorist Noriko Durney of running a red light in Millbrae. Her husband Edward, a lawyer, filed an appeal after losing at the trial court level. Millbrae Police Officer Jim Aboud testified in court about the camera, claiming he was the official custodian of records for American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the for-profit company that is in charge of the city’s automated ticketing program. Aboud had taken “some type of training session” from ATS and obtained a “certificate of completion” on May 15, 2008. Appellate Judge H. James Ellis found this unimpressive.

“To be fair, it appears that Officer Aboud received a packet of materials from American Traffic Solutions and then simply presented testimony based upon the content of the materials he received,” Ellis wrote. “Simply stated, Officer Aboud presented the information provided through officials of American Traffic Solutions as if it was true and correct, without any basis for doing so.”

Edward Durney objected to the ATS photographs on the grounds that they failed to meet the requirements of the evidence code. Judge Ellis agreed.

“The appellant was denied the right to effectively cross examine anyone relating to the specifics of the system and/or its operational status,” Ellis concluded. “Without the appropriate foundation, admission of Exhibits 1 through 10 was erroneous. The judgment is reversed with directions that the charges be dismissed.”

These court decisions help affirm the driver’s right to face his or her accuser in court and it’s possible that these decisions will become a deterrent against establishing ticket camera programs across the state.

As TheNewspaper.com points out in the San Bernadino article: while the decisions only have precedential value, when published, in these counties, the jurisdictions cover a population of over 10 million.

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