Thursday, March 29, 2012

Constitutional Win!

A Florida judge ruled Red Light Cameras are Unconstitutional!
A man from Pasco County, Fla., who got nabbed by a traffic camera to catch red light runners believes the camera was wrong — both in snapping his license plate and constitutionally. On the constitutional front, Thomas Filippone now has a county judge’s ruling to back him up.

The Tampa Bay Tribune reports that Filippone received a $158 traffic ticket, but he wasn’t about to pay up and be more careful with the reds next time:

“If they are going to prove I was driving the car, it’s their duty under the law to prove the identity of the driver,” said Filippone, 45, who maintains his 2002 Nissan Altima crossed the intersection a split second before the light turned red on April 15. “It unjustly shifts burden to me and makes me shoulder the burden of having to prove their case.”

Pasco County Judge Anne Wansboro was in agreement and dismissed the case Filippone brought before her stating that use of the cameras ”impermissibly shifts the burden of proof to the Defendant and therefore does not afford due process, and is unconstitutional to the extent due process is not provided.

But the case is not completely closed. The Tribune points out that the traffic cameras remain in place — there has not been a motion to remove them — and some city officials within the county will be appealing Wansboro’s decision:

“We do not agree with the decision,” said City Manager Tom O’Neill, who said the city was not notified of any constitutional challenge to its two red light cameras on U.S. 19. “It would be our position that we were not afforded due process and did not have the opportunity to speak.”

Port Richey city attorney Joe Poblick said officials have also notified the Florida Attorney General’s Office of the ruling. The state Constitution requires that the attorney general be notified whenever a state statute’s constitutionality is at issue.

City officials in other Florida counties are keeping tabs on the proceedings as it makes it through the appeals process but continue to use their cameras as is.

For Filippone though, he thinks the ruling stands in Pasco, meaning he “[shouldn't] get another red light ticket in Pasco County for the rest of my life.” In fact, he is already planning to use the ruling to fight another ticket he received from a red light camera. Filippone, who is an insurance attorney, said he is “looking forward” to his April court date.

These red light cameras are viewed by many people as just another revenue generator for municipalities. That is really the only reason they are being used. Municipalities don't even have to have a police officer actually interact with a motorist who runs a red light, so municipalities stand to save on labor costs and increase revenue at the same time.

That being said, one of the reasons these "automated law enforcers" are unconstitutional is that the Supreme Court has said that a defendant has a right to confront his accuser. Will the camera show up at a trial? How can you confront something automated? How do you know that the automated photograph was taken when the light was really red? Mechanical things do malfunction.

Photos can be doctored... and you can be wrongly accused very easily. That is a big problem.

We also have a right to privacy which these photographs violate in documenting where people are at any given time. Also, these cameras are also not complete documentation of the traffic violation. They force drivers to prove their innocence rather than the government to prove their guilt. That goes against our basic tenet of innocent until proven guilty.

Maine, Mississippi and Montana banned red light cameras last year, joining at least four other states, Nevada, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Red light cameras are just bad news... and yet another tool in Big Brother's Police State tool kit.