California’s automated traffic law enforcement programs—better known as red light cameras—continue to be embroiled in controversy, despite the best effort of state lawmakers to encourage ticketing by photo. On Thursday, The second-highest court in California decided that the red light camera program in the city of Riverside “did not produce reliable evidence.” The court rejected the $500 citation that Redflex, a private, for-profit red-light camera vendor, had mailed to plaintiff Viktors Andris Rekte.
Rekte, who is a lawyer, challenged the ticket he received after he received it in the mail, allegedly making a rolling right turn a split-second after the signal turned red at the intersection of Tyler Street and State Route 91 on October 26, 2012. Rekte argued the ticket and the charge should be thrown out because the yellow light was too short. Rekte was not provided with a copy of the video evidence before trial. RedFlex had set up its equipment in a way that blocked the view of the traffic signal on the video. Thus, he argued, the evidence produced by Redflex lacked a proper foundation.
Don Teagarden, a city employee, testified that he “reviewed” the ticket that Redflex later sent to sent to Retke. But since Redflex bills its service as a “turn key” operation, Teargarden had little to do with the entire process. His direct knowledge of the evidence was limited.
“On cross-examination, operator Teagarden acknowledged he could not tell if the monthly inspections of the equipment conducted by Redflex included verification of the time intervals for the signal lights, and did not know if anyone employed by the city of Riverside checked to make sure the system was calibrated properly,” Justice Manuel A. Ramirez wrote for the Court of Appeal majority.
A video proof the yellow light at the location at issue lasted only 3.5 seconds, 0.1 seconds short of the minimum allowed for the intersection under California’s laws. Every state has laws regulating how long a yellow light must last. An expert witness also showed that the red light camera setup blocked 41 percent of the traffic signal light for someone making a turn.
There have been a number of challenges to California’s red light cameras and their operators brewing in the state’s courts for the past few years. In June, the California Supreme Court side with the red light camera operators and the state by agreeing that photo evidence produced by the cameras must be presumed reliable. But here the court majority was persuaded that Rekte had overcome the presumption with solid evidence of unreliability. The Redflex system said the yellow time was 3.65 seconds, when the video evidence proved the timing was actually 3.5 seconds. The system was, therefore, improperly calibrated.
“Where the opposing party produces evidence undermining the presumption, the presumption is disregarded and the trier of fact must decide the question without regard to it,” Justice Ramirez wrote. “In other words, the other party is no longer aided by the presumption and must prove the fact in question.”
The majority also expressed concern over the dangerous state of the intersection and declared the evidence produced by a questionably calibrated device inadmissible.
“An inadequate yellow light interval renders a safe stop impossible, and constitutes an emergency justifying the entry into an intersection when the signal turns red,” Justice Ramirez wrote. “Because the digital images were previewed by Redflex before being forwarded to the Riverside Police Department, and because digital images are susceptible to manipulation, it was incumbent upon the city to introduce evidence that the printed representations were accurate. Otherwise, the images were inadmissible because they were not properly authenticated.”
If you’ve received a red light camera ticket in the mail, contact an experienced California traffic professional like Ticket Snipers today.