Arizona Judge Throws Out Political Arrest Based on Photo Ticket
Arrowhead Justice Court Judge John C. Keegan last week dismissed the photo radar-based reckless driving charges filed against the Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party. On May 6, officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), which is headed by Democrat Roger Vanderpool, showed up at the state GOP headquarters with a speed camera ticket in hand to arrest Brett Mecum, 30. Judge Keegan took the case as an opportunity to reinforce his previous judgment that the Arizona law governing freeway speed cameras is unconstitutional.
“Speed cameras along Arizona’s freeways are an aspect of everyday life for a vast majority of Arizonans,” Keegan wrote. “It is difficult to fathom a trip anywhere within the Phoenix metropolitan area without the omnipresence of the camera. If the statute authorizing the cameras is unconstitutional, the Arizona legislature, by enacting this statute, violates the equal protection rights of thousands of Arizonans every day.”
Keegan argued that it was unlikely that an ordinary motorist could mount a proper legal challenge to the program given that legal fees would amount to thousands of dollars while the maximum fine set by law for a freeway ticket is just $181.50. The state’s freeway program does not issue points against drivers’ licenses.
“Since citizens have no monetary or licensure incentive to enforce their constitutional right to equal protection, the court has left it upon itself to ensure that these individual rights are protected,” Keegan wrote.
DPS presented Keegan with a far more serious case. On April 10, a speed camera operated by Australia’s Redflex Traffic Systems photographed Mecum’s blue 2008 Ford Shelby GT Mustang on a deserted stretch of Loop 101 at 12:38 a.m. The camera claimed the Ford had been traveling at 109 MPH.
Maricopa County Prosecutor Andrew Thomas flip-flopped from his previously announced policy of not putting people in jail based solely on accusation of a machine that has proved wrong on several occasions. As a result, Mecum faced the prospect of four months in jail, a ninety-day license suspension and a $500 fine.
Mecum argued that DPS had a political motivation in pursuing the charges. Keegan agreed there was something unusual about Mecum’s treatment.
“The court notes that other defendants stopped for similar offenses and speed by an officer on patrol are often cited and released on the side of the highway,” Keegan wrote. “This happens in spite of the immediate proximity in time of the offense and access to the means of the alleged offense, i.e., the vehicle. In this case, apparently, a decision was made to arrest the defendant at his place of employment nearly a month after the incident. This action seems curious for two reasons. The first is the timing of the arrest considering the lack of immediate threat to public safety.”
Keegan’s second point was that the class two misdemeanor punishments that apply to reckless driving and criminal speeding cases could not be imposed based on the evidence provided by a state-issued photo radar ticket. In 2008, the legislature specifically rewrote the statute to create “civil” freeway citations that do not carry license points ( view law).
“Given that immediate public safety was not an issue, and the maximum penalty is only a nominal fine, the defendant’s arrest at his place of employment may have been neither appropriate nor proportional,” Keegan wrote. “That, however, does not mean that the state’s action is prohibitively selective or political.”
Keegan dismissed the criminal speeding and reckless driving charges with prejudice. Mecum, however, did not receive any special favor. Keegan has overturned more than one thousand photo radar tickets issued to people appearing in his courtroom.
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