By on June 9, 2010

Appellate courts in California are becoming increasingly upset at the conduct of cities and photo enforcement vendors. On May 21, a three-judge panel of the California Superior Court, Appellate Division, in Orange County tossed out a red light camera citation in the city of Santa Ana in a way that calls into question the legitimacy of the way red light camera trials are conducted statewide. Previously, a string of brief, unpublished decisions struck at illegal contracts, insufficient notice and other deficiencies. This time, however, the appellate division produced a ten-page ruling and certified it for publication, setting a precedent that applies to the county’s three million residents.

“This appeal involves an issue far too often presented to this court, namely the admissibility of evidence and the statutory compliance with the procedures employed by several municipalities in this county in what have come to be known as ‘photo enforcement’ citations,” the unanimous ruling stated.

At trial, attorney R. Allen Baylis objected to the admission of the red light camera photographs because the city had failed to lay a proper foundation for the evidence. The court agreed.

“The photographs contain hearsay evidence concerning the matters depicted in the photograph including the date, time and other information,” the ruling summarized. “The person who entered that relevant information into the camera-computer system did not testify. The person who entered that information was not subject to being cross-examined on the underlying source of that information. The person or persons who maintain the system did not testify. No one with personal knowledge testified about how often the system is maintained. No one with personal knowledge testified about how often the date and time are verified or corrected. The custodian of records for the company that contracts with the city to maintain, monitor, store and disperse these photographs did not testify. The person with direct knowledge of the workings of the camera-computer system did not testify.”

Santa Ana Police Officer Alan Berg testified in the lower court case, but the appeals panel found his direct knowledge limited.

“This witness testified that sometime in the distant past, he attended a training session where he was instructed on the overall working of the system at the time of the training,” the ruling stated. “Here the officer could not establish the time in question, the method of retrieval of the photographs or that any of the photographs or the videotape was a reasonable representation of what it is alleged to portray…. Here, Officer Berg did not qualify as the appropriate witness and did not have the necessary knowledge of underlying workings, maintenance or record keeping of Redflex Traffic System. The foundation for the introduction of the photographs and the underlying workings of the Redflex Traffic System was outside the personal knowledge of Officer Berg.”

Lawyers for the city of Santa Ana argued that the evidence should be admitted under the hearsay exemption for official government records. The court rejected this argument because the photographic records were created by a for-profit Australian company, not a state or local government agency.

“Here, the signator of the document, Exhibit #3, states they are employees of the ‘Redflex Traffic Systems,'” the ruling stated. “At no point does the signatory state that ‘Redflex Traffic Systems’ is a public entity or that they are otherwise employed by a public entity. Absent this critical foundation information, the document that they created cannot be and is not an ‘official record’ under Evidence Code section 1280.”

With the evidence inadmissible, the appellate panel found that “there is a total lack of evidence to support the vehicle code violation in question.” All charges were dismissed.

A copy of the ruling is available in a 600k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File California v. Khaled (Orange County, California Superior Court, 5/25/2010)


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14 Comments on “California: Appellate Decision Strikes Down Red Light Camera Evidence...”

  • avatar

    And yet, against the rising tide, Oklahoma institutes camera enforcement…

  • avatar

    Glad to see that Redflex’s ass is going to be kicked back to the outback where it belongs. As many others have stated on this site, this is about money, not traffic enforcement. The politicians who support this, regardless of which state they are from, should and must be voted out of office.

    • 0 avatar

      There is So. Much. Easy. Money. involved in these camera scams that politicians and bureaucrats alike are highly motivated to cooperate with the likes of Redflex, ATS and other photo enforcement scum. This is going to be a never-ending issue due to politician’s unwillingness to cut spending mixed their inherent greed and lust for power over others. Throw LEO’s in the mix (you know which side of the room they’re standing on, it ain’t your side) and you’ve got a freight train of trouble that’s going to be hard to stop.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Nice. Cali courts get one right!

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe there is hope for California after all…

  • avatar

    Bravo to whomever had the resources and determination to pursue it all the way to Appellate Court. It would have been far cheaper to just pay the ticket… the recourse most of us are stuck with.

    • 0 avatar

      In a different case, I just represented my wife in a red light ticket case. (Luckily, I am a lawyer.) She lost at trial, but won on appeal. I’m hoping that enough people will do the same thing we did and challenge these bogus fees. The Superior Courts in California might be clogged with cases, and the cities might be forced to give up these taxes.

    • 0 avatar

      How much would it have cost if you’d been representing a paying client?

      How much was the ticket?

    • 0 avatar

      Good questions.

      I’m not a litigator, so I don’t know what they charge. But I spent about 8 hours before the trial and at trial. And about 6 hours on the appeal. So about 14 hours times an hourly billing rate of $460. That’s $6,440.

      The ticket was $446. Plus our insurance went up by about $200 a year. To avoid the insurance increase, my wife could have gone to traffic school for a fee of about $100 plus wasted time.

      If you go to arraignment and beg, the judge takes $100 off, so it’s about $400 ($346 plus $45 for administrative expenses), plus the fee for whatever traffic school you take. We did not take that begging option.

      I have to say I enjoyed the trial experience. That was my first and only trial. I learned a lot. The judge was a woman — smart, well-spoken and polite. I had great fun cross-examining the police officer. I felt like Perry Mason. Only problem was I lost, so my record is horrible.

      But the win on appeal made up for it. The appeal was decided on the briefs. The People did not bother to file one in opposition. Oral argument on appeal consisted of the following: Appellate Judge: “Do you have anything to add to your brief?” Me: “No.” Judge: “Thank you. The matter is submitted.”

      I don’t really practice law anymore. I’ve become an entrepreneur, starting an electric car company. But I do like to do some things like this to keep my hand in the law.

  • avatar

    For the people, by the people. If there are photo cops, then the government is not here to serve us. I believe in traffic laws and inforcement, but these cameras are not for improved safety, but a form of tax.

  • avatar

    I see a big loophole exploitation coming up soon – the person signing the logs from now on will be an employee of the jurisdiction getting the money.

  • avatar

    The sea has parted and the sun shines in!!! This is a true watershed moment!

    IT WAS PUBLISHED! The damn decision WAS PUBLISHED!

    Why such a big deal you ask?

    Because if it is not published, the jurisdiction can be found guilty, sweep it under the rug, and continue with business as usual.

    Publishing the verdict makes the arguments used against the jurisdiction available to other defendants. It forces the jurisdiction into a course of action consistent with being found guilty in a court of law. Gee, how novel!

    Download the PDF and keep it in a secure place should you ever get a Traffic Revenue Ticket in the mail. That document will go a long way to keeping you free.

  • avatar
    Corky Boyd

    I wonder how many of the judges on the appellate court got one of those $450 tickets. Having to prove yourself innocent goes against the grain in the US judicial system. Nice to have judges on our side.

    • 0 avatar

      Corky Boyd, you make an interesting point. Having read many judicial opinions, reading this one tells me that three pretty pissed off judges wrote it. They were loaded for bear. No wonder they decided to publish this decision.

      The first sentence tells it all: “This appeal presents an issue far too often presented to this court, namely the admissibility of evidence and the statutory compliance with the procedures employed by several municipalities in this county in what have come to be known as “photo enforcement” citations.”

      Translation: we are sick and tired of these cases and this has got to stop.

      Finally. What a great message to hear.

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