Red light cameras constitutional, Broward judge rules

 July 20, 2011| By Ariel Barkhurst, Sun Sentinel


Attorneys representing ten drivers said red light camera tickets are "coercive" and violate the U.S. Constitution's due process clause. Judge Steven P. DeLuca ruled they don't. This is the first ruling in Broward County on the constitutionality of red light cameras, and the second in south Florida. A judge in Miami Dade ruled on the same issue earlier this year, and also upheld the constitutionality of the cameras. Despite his position Tuesday, DeLuca has thrown out a lot more tickets than he's upheld since drivers started challenging tickets last summer after cameras became legal statewide.

Of the 830 tickets challenged in Broward from July of 2010 through May of 2011, Deluca and Traffic Hearings Officer Tom Wich upheld just 44 of them. The other 786 drivers didn't have to pay.

This is a win for red light cameras and for cities that have installed them, said American Traffic Solutions spokesman Charles Territo. ATS provides cameras for most south Florida cities with cameras. They've faced many court challenges. Evidentiary rulings have gone against camera programs in Broward and Palm Beach, where a combined 1,100 drivers had their tickets dismissed or hadn't yet paid through May. This may be a sign that the tide is turning in the courtroom for red light cameras as judges get "more comfortable with the evidence," Territo said. "When the final chapter is written on red light safety cameras in south Florida, these legal issues will be nothing more than a speck on what was otherwise a very successful legacy of making roads safer," Territo said.

This ruling applies only in DeLuca's courtroom, attorney Ted Hollander said. He represented four of the ten drivers found guilty. He plans to appeal it. If the ruling is upheld, Hollander said, it would have "lasting effects." Anyone could use that precedent to get a ticket easily dismissed, he said.

In the case DeLuca ruled on Tuesday, lawyers argued that red light camera citations compel drivers to pay up rather than assert their innocence, because only drivers who challenge their ticket and lose get the violation on their driving record, Hollander said. DeLuca found that wasn't "coercive" because the risk associated with challenging the ticket is not high enough. Bradley Weismann, Fort Lauderdale's legal counsel for the police department, was not as optimistic as Territo. "I'm sure they'll file new grounds and new arguments why it's unconstitutional," he said. "They already have. It's just this argument won't work. They'll have to come up with something new." Hollander said there are still plenty of constitutionality challenges pending. One argues that the different treatment of drivers who pay up and drivers who challenge the tickets violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. Another challenges the fact that the burden of proof lies on the car owner to prove they weren't the driver, in cases where someone else was driving the car. "Keep in mind this is just beginning," Hollander said. "There's more to come."  Red light cameras are constitutional, a Broward judge ruled Tuesday.

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