The Supreme Court and Traffic Tickets

 

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One Howard Herships, from Rancho Cordova, California, is challenging the use of red-light cameras, from which he amassed $980 in fines, all the way to the Supreme Court. If you knew my driving record, you’d understand why I regard him as an American hero.

I’m all for challenging the use of red light and speeding cameras. I think that cities and states often over-enforce traffic laws to raise revenue rather than out of a concern for public safety. If a city wants to give me a ticket for speeding, it should be delivered in person, by a police officer. Sooner or later, someone is going to strike a blow for liberty behind the wheel.

On the merits, there is a reasonable argument here: The Confrontation Clause of the Constitution gives the defendant the right to confront his accuser. The confrontation right has to require more than the photo of a car going over the speed limit. It at least requires the government to produce an official who can stand by the forensic evidence and the accuracy of the instruments.

Unfortunately, I think Herships has little chance of getting his case heard — it appears he is bringing the suit himself and he failed to convince the California Supreme Court to grant review. The U.S. Supreme Court is usually reluctant to take cases when a state’s highest court or a federal appeals courts haven’t weighed in first.

Eventually though, someone will get a case like this in the right posture to go before the Court. I’m anxiously awaiting that day.

There are 15 comments.

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  1. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    I was in court a few years ago with one of my boys (successfully) fighting a speeding ticket he had received in front of our house.

    The two hours before his name was called was an eye opener. There was one guy who had gotten a camera ticket for going through a red light. He had been rear ended and pushed into the intersection and had the accident report and witnesses to prove it.

    Obviously, the judge should have just thrown it out. But to fight it he had to post bail, then take another day off work to come back to court. Instead, he just paid the ticket.

    I like to think he would have won, but they make fighting a ticket very onerous and cost prohibitive.

    • #1
  2. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    The traffic cams were pretty pervasive in Western Washington for a couple of years. It was obvious that it was about revenues and not safety. They became cost prohibitive, and they have pretty much disappeared, proving that it was always about money.

    • #2
  3. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    My bigger concern with the cameras is that they identify the instrument of a violation — i.e., the car — instead of the actual violator. How do different jurisdictions handle instances of borrowed cars? Can you contest a ticket by saying, “Prove I was driving it”?

    • #3
  4. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Son of Spengler:
    My bigger concern with the cameras is that they identify the instrument of a violation — i.e., the car — instead of the actual violator. How do different jurisdictions handle instances of borrowed cars? Can you contest a ticket by saying, “Prove I was driving it”?

     The cameras around here have a pic of the driver.

    I have a few friends who have thrown the ticket away with no repercussions. Since it hasn’t been handed to you, there’s no way anyone can prove you’ve received it. But there’s a new twist – now they mail you a citation with a link to view the picture online. Once you’ve clicked on it, they know you’ve received the ticket.

    • #4
  5. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    The traffic cams are not about safety, they are about revenue.

    I hate the fact that the human element has been removed from the equation.

    I have managed to avoid several tickets by explaining why I felt it was more dangerous to

    come to a sudden stop at the red then proceed through the intersection.

    • #5
  6. user_656019 Coolidge
    user_656019
    @RayKujawa

    Kozak:
    The traffic cams are not about safety, they are about revenue.
    I hate the fact that the human element has been removed from the equation.
    I have managed to avoid several tickets by explaining why I felt it was more dangerous to
    come to a sudden stop at the red then proceed through the intersection.

     It’s interesting you say that because I once contributed to a multi-vehicle accident at what was considered, and might still be, the worst traffic intersection for accidents in the State of Washington. This intersection, unless I’m mistaken, does not have traffic cameras. But an intersection in Lynnwood, 196th St SW and Alderwood Mall Parkway, within a heavy shopping area, is covered by traffic cameras (and I often see them flash). For the City of Lynnwood, it’s ‘follow the money,’ meaning follow those who have money to spend.

    BTW, the driver of the Aerostar van that cut across two lanes of traffic while I was still on the yellow was at fault. But my car (my first Acura!) was still totalled.

    • #6
  7. Foxman Inactive
    Foxman
    @Foxman

    Ray Kujawa:

    Kozak: The traffic cams are not about safety, they are about revenue. I hate the fact that the human element has been removed from the equation. I have managed to avoid several tickets by explaining why I felt it was more dangerous to come to a sudden stop at the red then proceed through the intersection.

    It’s interesting you say that because I once contributed to a multi-vehicle accident at what was considered, and might still be, the worst traffic intersection for accidents in the State of Washington. This intersection, unless I’m mistaken, does not have traffic cameras. But an intersection in Lynnwood, 196th St SW and Alderwood Mall Parkway, within a heavy shopping area, is covered by traffic cameras (and I often see them flash). For the City of Lynnwood, it’s ‘follow the money,’ meaning follow those who have money to spend.
    BTW, the driver of the Aerostar van that cut across two lanes of traffic while I was still on the yellow was at fault. But my car (my first Acura!) was still totalled.

    That’s what you get for buying foreign. ;-)

     

    • #7
  8. Resistance Inactive
    Resistance
    @Resistance

    I suggest that the staff of Law Talk represent him pro bono. :)

    • #8
  9. skipsul Coolidge
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    What of the most scurrilous aspects of these vile cameras is this: It is common documented practice to actually shorten yellow-light timing when installing these cameras. This despite repeated studies which show that longer yellows make for safer intersections.

    If these reprehensible money grubbers actually cared a whit about safety, they’d forego the cameras, and just lengthen the yellow times.

    • #9
  10. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    So Professor Yoo has finally found a form of surveillance he doesn’t like. I didn’t think that was possible. He must have just gotten a ticket based on a traffic camera. It’s okay Prof., just explain to the judge that laws are for the little people and I’m sure you’ll be fine… or is that fined?

    • #10
  11. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    When they were in use on Ontario highways, I loved photo radar (as it was called here).

    I loved it because the white radar vans were so easy to spot from a great distance, so one c0uld speed with near impunity with plenty of notice in time to slow right the heck down.

    Even if you didn’t spot the van, if one was willing to pay the fine, getting a ticket from a photo radar truck was essentially a license to speed.

    When they got rid of photo radar and put the cops back on the road, I had to go back to driving safely.

    Spoilsports.

    • #11
  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    &p>Sure they generate revenue, for the camera operators. You may receive a $90 bill, but only $20 is the fine while the rest is a fee paid to the company.

    Wish I would have thought of this boondoggle.

    • #12
  13. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Don’t think of them as cameras…they’re TARGETS…at least around here. Albuquerque had red light cameras for a while. Between the complaints from the local community and the fact that they became an object of target practice, they were taken out.

    • #13
  14. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Carey J.:
    So Professor Yoo has finally found a form of surveillance he doesn’t like. I didn’t think that was possible. He must have just gotten a ticket based on a traffic camera. It’s okay Prof., just explain to the judge that laws are for the little people and I’m sure you’ll be fine… or is that fined?

    Allow me to play John Yoo for a moment. (and I hope I don’t embarrass him.)

    I think John Yoo would point out that he was not objecting to red light cameras because they amount to “surveillance”; he just doesn’t believe that they’re Constitutional.

    Leaving the Confrontation Clause aside, I don’t think that John Yoo would consider red light cameras “surveillance” anyway. There is no expectation of privacy when you’re operating your car on a public street. That means you can take a picture of a car driving on a public street without any 4th Amendment implications. 

    • #14
  15. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    John Hendrix:

    Carey J.: So Professor Yoo has finally found a form of surveillance he doesn’t like. I didn’t think that was possible. He must have just gotten a ticket based on a traffic camera. It’s okay Prof., just explain to the judge that laws are for the little people and I’m sure you’ll be fine… or is that fined?

    I think John Yoo would point out that he was not objecting to red light cameras because they amount to “surveillance”; he just doesn’t believe that they’re Constitutional.
    Leaving the Confrontation Clause aside, I don’t think that John Yoo would consider red light cameras “surveillance” anyway. There is no expectation of privacy when you’re operating your car on a public street. That means you can take a picture of a car driving on a public street without any 4th Amendment implications.

     
    Judging by his earlier writings, I don’t think Professor Yoo believes there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy anywhere, if the government wants to spy on someone. Confrontation Clause arguments could apply to any evidence obtained without a suspect’s knowledge. I think the professor got a ticket.

    • #15

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