Sometimes, The Little Victories Are The Sweetest

A Minnesota judge has declared the use of red light cameras illegal and ordered them turned off:

District Judge Mark Wernick said the ordinance is invalid because it provides vehicle owners with less due process rights in court than the state statute. State law for a similar violation requires the state to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” who was driving. But Minneapolis’ ordinance shifted the burden to the owners to prove their innocence.

And communities cannot have ordinances in conflict with state law, the ruling noted.

“This [ordinance] is patently un-American,” said Howard Bass, one of the attorneys working for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota who filed the motion on behalf of a 29-year-old man who was ticketed.

For once, the ACLU is on the right side of the law. The usage of these cameras is an example of municipalities misusing technology and the law to generate revenue. It isn’t about traffic safety – in fact empirical studies have shown that traffic cameras increase the number of accidents. It is not unheard of for city officials to alter yellow light times to increase revenue – at the expense of driver safety.

Judge Wernick made the right call here. Every American has the right to due process of law. They have the right to face their accuser in court, and quite frankly, if I were a driver caught by one of these cameras I’d demand the damnable thing by unbolted and brought into the courtroom as a witness. (And no, I rather doubt it would work except as a point of principle, but IANAL.) The usage of these traffic cameras has always been on the shady side of the law, and it’s high time that they start getting struck down.

It’s one thing to argue for enhanced surveillance against terrorists – but using Big Brother to increase revenue and harass drivers, making the roads less safe in the process – is simply going too far. If local governments want to raise revenue they can push for a tax increase and let the voters decide – but taking action to harass motorists and reduce public safety is a dereliction of duty and an act that is both unethical and quite possibly unconstitutional. This is a case the civil libertarians get it right – and those municipalities using these mini-Panopticons had better start taking them down or face more court challenges – and I’m looking at you, Sioux Falls.

7 thoughts on “Sometimes, The Little Victories Are The Sweetest

  1. I may just ahve a dirty mind here, but I definetly think I am not a lawyer is one of those phrases that shouldn’t be acronymed.

    Other then that I definetly agree with you. Cameras replace the vital role of police person in deciding whats really happening, and allowing for emergencies as well as various road conditions that cameras don’t pick up on (i.e. slippery roads, dangerous trafic conditions caused by other drivers)

  2. Here is a case where I simply don’t understand the American mindset. While I am in two minds about the question whether speed cameras/red light cameras increase road safety, I don’t see where your arguments about “facing the accuser” come in. If you cross a red light and get photographed (don’t forget to smile when you are speeding), the city you get caught in is the accuser, and the photograph, including details of when you were crossing a red light at which intersection at what speed with how much time lapsed between you and the last bit of green light, serves as evidence to support the city’s case. Where is there a problem?

    Sure, if the cameras don’t pick up the face of the driver, you have a case. And if the licence plate cannot be made out clearly, you have a case. But I just don’t understand how the fact that you were photographed rather than personally stopped by a police officer can give you any loophole.

    After all, there *is* a fairly safe method of avoiding getting caught, in the first place: don’t run red lights, don’t speed… ESPECIALLY under unfavorable road conditions.


  3. It is a particular feature of American law. For instance, if you get a traffic ticket, contest it, and go to court, if the officer doesn’t show up to testify in the case, the case is almost always automatically dismissed – at least for minor offenses.

  4. This country faces a long-term revenue crisis due to changing demographics and the push to hold upper-income individuals harmless from taxation. Predatory measures like these traffic cameras, along with layer upon layer of “sin taxes” and other restrictive laws to “protect us from ourselves” will probably continue popping up left and right, pushing the boundaries of civil liberties and personal freedoms every step of the way. Kudos for small victories….we better take them when we can get them.

  5. I have no problem with the cameras, and I was “caught” by one.
    I was traveling behind a semi and when I got to the intersection the light had turned. I never saw the light because of the height of the truck in front of me.
    When I received the citation in the mail, I went back to the intersection and waited for a truck to cross, I got behind it at about the same distance that was shown on the citation photo. I snapped 6 digital shots that clearly showed that the light was obstructed by the truck.
    The citation contained 2 photos. 1 of the intersection clearly showing the light RED and my car in the intersection behind the semi. The other showed my licence plate.
    I had a hearing where I displayed the photos I had taken and compared them to the camera photos. I was in and out in 5 minutes.
    The camera showed I had “ran a light” but my evidence showed that I was innocent.
    I have no problem with this use of technology.

  6. “I have no problem with this use of technology”

    Even when the locals REDUCE the yellow light duration at camera intersections to “enhance” the system?

  7. “Even when the locals REDUCE the yellow light duration at camera intersections to “enhance” the system?”

    So, what you are saying is that at intersection X, the yellow light lasts 5 seconds, and at intersection Y, which has a camera, the yellow light lasts 3.5 seconds.
    Is that what you’re saying Bubba??

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