California Supreme Court In Favor of Traffic Cams – Fair?

los angeles superior court building and statues detail

los angeles superior court building and statues detail

PI Lawyers love smoking gun evidence in car accident cases.  It helps cut to the chase in resolving lawsuits and insurance claims, and in proving legal liability better than almost anything. Having a real percipient human witness is considered to be among the most quality evidence sources that one can obtain. But now, it appears that a machine is just as good as a real person in proving both civil and criminal liability.

A recent ruling by the California Supreme Court that stemmed from a case involving a woman from the Los Angeles area, who challenged the images taken by the cameras after she was ticketed by mail. The law now works in a way that allows the government to film a driver entering an intersection on an allegedly red light. The Court says it is proper to snap a picture of the alleged unlawful driver, and the ruling now appears to set in stone that the vehicle operator is presumed guilty, since the machine is now presumed to be “accurate”, unless it can be proven the image and the timing of the snapped photo is inaccurate.

The Los Angeles County woman, Carmen Goldsmith, was seeking to appeal a traffic ticket of $436 she had received after her photo was allegedly taken by a traffic camera running a red light in Inglewood. Her attorney argued the images from the traffic camera are a form of hearsay. The high Court dismissed the claim, stating that hearsay can only be human and not from a camera. In attempting to prove Goldsmith’s claim, her attorney wanted to bring the camera’s manufacturer’s testimony involving the dependability of the red light cameras.

Apparently, the woman’s attorney did not argue that in order for evidence to come in in a criminal case, there needed to be a victim, or corpus delicti, and that there also needed to be a formal verified complaint. You see, courts treat traffic infractions like quasi criminal actions that are not entitled to normal legal protections of crimes, since only a fine, and not jail time are involved. But in reality, many attorneys disagree, and believe that courts act in excess of their jurisdiction when they allow traffic infractions to proceed upon a citation, instead of a formal, verified complaint since there is no such thing as “quasi criminal” in American law.

In this case, Goldsmith’s attorney Patrick Santos, was told the testimony by the manufacturer was unnecessary by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her decision the images from the camera have been approved for a lengthy amount of time as a substantive silent witness for the content of the pictures. Attorney Santos said he expects to see traffic light signals be reinstalled after the ruling, since several local California government authorities stopped the use of the cameras due to legal challenges by residents contesting the validity of the tickets issued. Santos also said this will give the private camera companies a clear path to triple profits and make tons more money by paying off politicians to include these cameras on every corner.

Opposition to the use of the traffic cameras is strongly held by the American Civil Liberties Union, who has raised concerns about the affect the cameras could have on individual’s privacy rights. ACLU spokesman Will Matthews stated that the cameras have the potential to gather a large amount of data and there is the question of law enforcement using the data obtained for unrelated issues to get a warrant. He said this type of technology people need to be reassured it will not be used in a way that violates their privacy rights.

Groups opposing the use of red light cameras claim the use of them to ticket drivers are in use to generate revenue for the local government, rather than a tool used in keeping the public safe. As for personal injury attorneys like me, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. We can request these public records in traffic intersection accident cases in order to bolster, or weaken claims involving collisions.

However, most people we have polled on the issue are extremely unhappy with how easily a machine can be rigged. Many individuals are also angry that the high Court presumed the traffic cameras to be accurate. This is a scary thing to any and all civil libertarians. This is especially so, considering we are already being spied upon by our own government by their own admission. The real question is, how much longer will be people keep voting for politicians who appoint judicial officers that apparently rule in ways that go against the the historic interpretations of the law and evidence?

In California in particular, there is a growing trend in the voting public in electing officials who offer false promises of safety and benefits, in exchange for the loss of personal liberty. Some blame the liberal school system, and others blame it on a lack of parents teaching their children that people, and not government are the solution. Whatever the case may be, score one more victory for the statists. The only good to come of this for most individuals, is more potential evidence for PI attorneys to access in contested left hand turn and intersection accidents.