In July, a three-judge panel of the appellate division of the Superior Court of California in Orange County ruled that red light camera tickets issued at certain intersections in Santa Ana were invalid because the city failed to provide legally required notice. The case was certified for publication, and last month the cities of Santa Ana and West Hollywood petitioned the state supreme court to undo this certification, which is extremely rare for photo ticketing programs. Unpublished cases cannot be cited as precedent in California, and motorists interested in challenging citations will have to repeat from scratch all arguments about the program’s illegality.
“The city of Santa Ana’s interest in depublication is based on the fact that the city of Santa Ana continues to operate a red light camera enforcement system throughout the city,” City Attorney Joseph W. Fletcher wrote in a September 21 letter to the high court. “The Park decision should not be published because the court’s interpretation of Vehicle Code Section 21455.5 is incorrect.”
On February 17, 2009, a Redflex-owned automated ticketing machine photographed the Toyota belonging to Danny Park and mailed a $436 citation. Park argued that although the city had provided a 30-day warning period at one location, Harbor Boulevard and McFadden in 2003, it offered no warning period at the intersection where he was photographed, Bristol Street and Segerstrom Avenue. Park argued that the plain language of the code required warning at each individual intersection.
“Prior to issuing citations under this section, a local jurisdiction utilizing an automated traffic enforcement system shall commence a program to issue only warning notices for 30 days,” California Vehicle Code section 21455.5 specifies. “The local jurisdiction shall also make a public announcement of the automated traffic enforcement system at least 30 days prior to the commencement of the enforcement program.”
A trial court found Park guilty, but the appellate division panel overturned the decision based on an interpretation of the word “system” that applies to each individual intersection.
“It would make little sense for the scope of the 30-day warning period to be limited temporally and to be defined arbitrarily by the geographic size of the local jurisdiction, inasmuch as the legislatively stated purpose of the warning requirement is to deter red light violations,” Judge Gregory H. Lewis wrote for the court. “This purpose is best achieved by the issuance of new warnings and announcements to proximate users each time automated enforcement equipment commences operation at an intersection. Because the record in this case shows a lack of compliance with the requirement of Vehicle Code section 21455.5, subdivision (b), that a municipality utilizing an automated enforcement system at an intersection comply with the prescribed warning requirements ‘prior to issuing citations,’ the conviction must be reversed.”
On September 9, the state court of appeal denied Santa Ana’s request to overturn the decision. A copy of the July decision is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.