California’s second highest court on Wednesday upheld the publication status of a key decision that called into question the legitimacy of red light camera evidence. The state Court of Appeal rejected the request of the cities of Santa Ana and Menlo Park to depublish a May appellate ruling of the Orange County Superior Court (view the California v. Khaled decision) that found the red light camera photographs presented as evidence in court were inadmissible hearsay.
Attorney R. Allen Baylis objected to the admission of the photos because the city had failed to lay a proper evidentiary foundation. The police officer who presented the information in court did nothing more than read from a sheet of paper handed to him by the Australian firm Redflex which contracts with Santa Ana and several other cities. The officer had no independent knowledge either of the incident in question nor did he have direct knowledge of whether the camera had been functioning properly.
Although a number of California courts have struck down red light camera citations on various legal grounds, none of them has been published (see the cases of Franco, Murray, Graham, Williams and Bohl). Publication affords a decision the ability to stand within a county as precedent. In court filings, the League of California Cities suggested that allowing such rulings to stand with precedential value would force them to issue refunds or cancel their programs outright, costing millions.
Attorney Frank Iwama, a former deputy attorney general for the state, has beaten nineteen of the $494 tickets for his clients in San Mateo county. He successfully argues that cities in San Mateo are operating under illegal contingent-fee contracts with the private firms American Traffic Solutions and Redflex.
“I believe the Orange County Superior Court Appellate Division’s decision in People v. Khaled, certified for publication, is a wake up call for photo enforcement companies and local cities in California to seriously address evidentiary and constitutional issues with regard to the use of photo/videotape evidence in red light camera cases,” Iwama told TheNewspaper. “Together with the ‘cost neutrality’ contract defense, the Khaled decision presents serious challenges to the use of red light cameras in California.”
The state supreme court is now poised to issue a ruling on the legality of contingent-fee red light camera contracts after issuing a decision yesterday in a related contingent-fee case.