By on March 24, 2010

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that municipalities in most states may use evidence illegally collected by photo enforcement cameras. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit made its decision in the case of Stephen Bell who sued both American Traffic Solutions (ATS), an Arizona-based red light camera operator, and Redflex Traffic Solutions of Australia for violating Texas statutes requiring companies involved in private investigation to obtain a license. The three-judge appellate panel determined that there was no problem with companies offering unlawfully obtained evidence in civil court cases.

“…Illegally obtained evidence may be admitted in civil traffic violation proceedings and that therefore the use of such evidence creates no injury,” the court ruled.

Neither ATS nor Redflex have gone through the extensive background checks required of public investigation companies as the process is time consuming and expensive. Bell argued that these firms fit perfectly into the definitions provided under state law.

“Unless the person holds a license as an investigations company, a person may not… offer to perform the services of an investigations company,” Texas Code Section 1702 states. “A person acts as an investigations company for the purposes of this chapter if the person engages in the business of obtaining or furnishing… information related to… crime or wrongs done; or… engages in the business of securing… evidence for use before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee… furnishing information includes information obtained or furnished through the review and analysis of, and the investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public.”

On the substance of his complaint, Bell convinced a number of judges. Last April, Dallas County, Texas District Court Presiding Judge Craig Smith ruled that a photo ticketing company “is required to obtain a license under the Texas Occupations Code.” A federal district court judge also essentially agreed with Bell, assuming the need for a license in a ruling. But Judge Smith, the district judge and now the appellate panel agreed that on technical grounds, Bell had no standing to sue because he had not suffered injury to a “legally protected” interest.

The appeals court cited the Texas Appeals Court case Hudson v. Winn in which an unlicensed private investigator lied to gain entry into a home. The court found that the victim in the case had no standing to sue for negligence.

“Similarly, in this case, appellants have only made the bare allegation that ATS collected evidence without a license, without alleging any facts to demonstrate how ATS’s lack of a license contributed to any invasion of their privacy,” the court ruled. “Consequently, they have not shown the causation necessary to provide standing to advance their negligence per se claim in federal court.”

A copy of the case is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Bell v. American Traffic Solutions (Us Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 3/23/2010)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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10 Comments on “Federal Court Upholds Illegal Traffic Camera Evidence...”


  • avatar
    Steven02

    I read the court ruling here.
    http://www.leagle.com/unsecure/page.htm?shortname=infco20100323135

    Upon reading it, I can see why the case was dropped. This is a civil court proceeding and it has been demonstrated that in civil proceedings that you cannot always with hold evidence if obtained illegally. In this particular case, one would need to prove that ATS not having a license caused them injury, which it did not. It is a really interesting read. Had this been a criminal proceeding, I have no doubt that the result would have been different.

    • 0 avatar

      Steven02, I agree.

      As I read it, this is a ruling about the admissibility of the evidence in a civil matter, nothing more. The facism/1984 comments are misplaced.

      The automated enforcement process is too error prone for my tastes. I don’t like speeders and red light runners, but I like the way these camera systems are being utilized even less. Unlike these systems, when a cop makes a car stop, they know who broke the law and can accurately issue a citation to that person. It also appears that in some jurisdictions, there’s little to no recourse for a citizen to contest a citation, and that is clearly not in keeping with the spirit of our legal system. That being said, this particular decision has no direct bearing on the legality of enforcement cameras, and in its limited scope, appears to be correct.

      If you don’t like traffic cameras, make logical, legal arguments against them, and leave the knee jerk, facism reactions out of the debate.

    • 0 avatar
      revjasper

      @toasty,

      Indeed when a cop makes a car stop, they know who broke the law: The fella driving past with the out of state plates.

      Even when you’re stopped for “running a yellow” and issued a ticket for running a red, then if your court date is assigned to a day you can’t make it, just pay your fine like a good little citizen. You can send a letter requesting a different court date, but the reply will always be “We entered a plea of guilty for you.” Hundreds of dollars later, you will be a wiser person.

      Now I just slam on the brakes whenever I see the yellow, even if I’m in the crosswalk. The ticket for blocking the intersection is much cheaper than the one for running a maybe still yellow light…

    • 0 avatar

      @ revjasper:

      I’m not sure what your opinion has to do with this ruling, but I’m happy to see that your patellar reflex is in order.

    • 0 avatar
      revjasper

      @toasty,

      Watch what you’re calling my knee!

      I was just saying that sometimes the cop is less honest than the camera. While the license plate OCR isn’t stellar, it’s not making judgments on who is guilty. It’s just mailing tickets.

      No matter if the ticket writer was organic or inorganic, city hall wants their money. If it’s rigged properly, you can’t fight it.

      When a cop makes a car stop, they know who broke the law as you said. But it’s up to them. I’d rather have a proper length yellow light with a camera on the end than some local with a quota.

    • 0 avatar

      @ revjasper:

      Now I see your point. With the photo evidence, you may still have a chance at proving your innocence vs. having to square off in court solely against a cop’s word. I’d still prefer more rigid controls on traffic cameras, such as having a human check that the vehicle registration and registered owner’s license photo match the traffic camera photo. Otherwise, there’s just too much room for error. Also, I remember reading of cases where there simply wasn’t any recourse to contest a camera issued ticket, and that’s clearly wrong.

      IMO, traffic cameras were deployed before our legal system was fully prepared, and that’s why these legal challenges are being made. I’m thankful that this process is being challenged, but none of this is making me consider a move to Ruby Ridge.

  • avatar
    windswords

    This is not the same country I grew up in.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    Scary. Police State fascism is really close now. These people are setting the precedent that they can break the law in order to enforce it. Once again.. these people are BREAKING THE LAW TO ENFORCE IT. Orwellian doublethink in action. When it reaches that point you can no longer trust your politicians or courts. Next thing they will repeal your Miranda rights.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    My “tort” is that as a citizen of this country, crap like this ruling is destroying it.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    “Scary. Police State fascism is really close now.”

    It’s been here, they’re just getting bolder about it. The “Patriot” act gave basically unlimited powers to government agents to do anything, anytime – the language is so broad as to allow any Constitutional violation of an American citizen.

    Sadly, many people will give up their rights for the illusion of safety.

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