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California Court of Appeal Throws Out Red Light Camera Ticket

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 07:09

California Court of Appeal Throws Out Red Light Camera Ticket

    California Court of Appeal overturns red light camera ticket evidence as hearsay.

    Red light cameras are coming under increasing legal fire in the Golden State. On Friday, California's second-highest court published a ruling that struck down red light camera evidence as insufficient to convict a motorist. On June 3, 2009, a camera belonging to the Australian firm Redflex Traffic Systems accused Annette Borzakian of entering the Beverly Hills intersection of Beverly Drive and Wilshire Boulevard 0.28 seconds after the light had turned red.

     Borzakian, a former deputy public defender, decided to fight the citation. During her January 2010 trial, Officer Mike Butkus provided the standard testimony that introduces Redflex evidence in all jurisdictions. Commissioner Carol J. Hallowitz ignored Borzakian's objections, admitted the evidence and found Borzakian guilty, imposing a $435 fine plus a twelve-hour traffic school. Borzakian immediately appealed, citing the US Supreme Court case Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, which the traffic camera industry has feared since it was decided in 2009.

    That case clarified that the Constitution's Confrontation Clause gave defendants the right to question the actual technicians responsible for analyzing forensic evidence. Here, Officer Butkus played no role in the operation or maintenance of the red light camera system. He merely read the sheet of paper that Redflex handed him. Borzakian argued that this made the photo ticketing evidence inadmissible hearsay. The superior court's appellate division insisted Melendez-Diaz did not apply.

    "The people have never been required to have Redflex employees such as the custodian of records or the field service technicians present in court in order for the people's exhibits to be admissible," the three-judge appellate panel found. "Officer Butkus is perfectly capable of authenticating the documents and laying the necessary foundation for their admissibility and in the court's opinion had done both in this matter. It was explained to [Borzakian] that she could have filed a discovery motion or issued her own subpoenas, as many motorists do, had she cared to do so."

    The three-judge Court of Appeal panel did not agree. Instead, it sided with the Orange County Superior Court's Khaled decision (view case). State law allows the use of red light camera evidence, but it does so only if certain standards are met. Among these is that the prosecution must establish the yellow light duration at the intersection meets the minimum state standards. Here, Officer Butkus concluded the light had been yellow for 3.15 seconds and that this was sufficient.

    "Even assuming a 3.15 second interval meets the mandatory minimum yellow light interval as mandated by the legislature, according to Officer Butkus's testimony then, he relied upon text typed across the top of two photos, stating 'Amber: 3.15,'" Justice Fred Woods wrote for the Court of Appeal. "Accordingly, where the evidence was being presented to show the duration of the yellow traffic signal met the minimum interval mandated by the legislature -- measured to the hundredth of a second -- the record does not support the conclusion Officer Butkus was otherwise qualified to state that the representation was accurate."

    The three-judge panel did not find credible the argument that the red light camera photographs and maintenance logs were merely routine governmental business records that did not require authentication. The court noted that the records were created by Redflex, not the government.

    "Without the proper testimony, the maintenance logs (and therefore the photographs with text typed across the top) were not properly admitted," Justice Woods concluded. "Without these documents, as in Khaled, there is a total lack of evidence to support the Vehicle Code violation in question."

    The Court of Appeal reversed Borzakian's conviction in a decision originally handed down on January 26. The three-judge panel on Friday decided that the decision should hold precedential value and ordered it to be published. A copy of the decision is available in a 175k PDF file at the source link below.

PDF File California v. Borzakian (Court of Appeal, State of California, 1/26/2012)

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