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Red Light Cameras: Legal or Unconstitutional?

Let's take a deeper look into this hot-button issue in Florida.

One of my favorite targets for my stories is my own father. He is the antithesis of an attorney. He never listens to a single thing I say. He will call me for legal advice. I will give him legal advice for free. He will then tell me that I am absolutely wrong and hang up on me. He is also getting older and his eyes are getting worse. He has trouble reading a menu and refuses to use glasses.

Recently he gave me an envelope where there was a picture of him running a red light in a left-hand turn somewhere that I choose to keep anonymous. Attached was a ticket for $158, unless he contested the ticket.

Now, I must brag a little bit: I have more than perfect vision: I see from 10 feet like most people see from 20 feet. To me it was clear the light was red, that he was in the middle of the intersection, and so I recommended that he simply pay the fine. My father looked long and hard at the photo and said, “Yeah, Jeremy, you’re wrong. I don’t see the red.” (Recall eyesight issues above).

So my father took the ticket to an officer in the county that remains anonymous and the officer agreed. The ticket was dropped. But then my father asked a great question: “Why can a camera make me pay?”

My initial thought was that photographic evidence and video evidence is far more reliable than witness testimony. But there is no one behind the camera. It is automated.

We know that radar guns are used to detect our speed, but we have someone behind the gun. We know those scary TSA machines that show all my birthday secrets to some CIA or FBI agents (according to some conspiracy theorists) while I am in the airport are at least accompanied by an officer.

So how do we contest these “red light cameras” when they are completely automated?

The issue seems to be heating up in the State of Florida. As it stands now, red light cameras are legal. In 2010, red-light camera operations were approved by amending or creating at least 13 separate sections of Florida Statutes: Chapter 316, Chapter 318, Chapter 321, and Chapter 322.

However, in 2005 when the red-light camera issue was first getting warm, Attorney General Charlie Christ issued an opinion that red light traffic tickets could not be issued without an officer present. (AGO 2005-41 dated July 12, 2005).

The Attorney General’s 2005 legal position seems to have been taken seriously now as there are at least two cases on Florida’s eastern coast that are challenging the red light camera laws. One case that is easy to track is City of Aventura v. Masone, Case No. 3D10-1094 (Fla. 3d DCA).

According to my research, the Court has not yet made a determination on the constitutionality of the red light camera laws. The other case appears to still be at the trial level as a class action in Orlando.

So, from my professional perspective, the Florida law that allows for red-light cameras is in full force and effect until further notice. One should not ignore the tickets. You can choose to pay the fine, contest the fine, or fight the law while contesting the fine. My father was successful by simply bringing the photograph to the sheriff’s office. Of course the validity may change completely depending on the court’s ruling in the coming months.

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid the red-light camera situation is to stop at red lights.  There are sources to find the red-light cameral intersections if you are a “yellow light” enthusiast.

For example, Pasco County Clerk of Court has published an online source.

I found a local attorney based on my internet searches who posted
this:  http://www.helpgoodpeople.com/lawyer-attorney-1809274.html

I found this information for Hillsborough County Red Light Cameras:
http://hillsboroughcounty.org/redforreason/home.cfm

Of course I always drive the speed limit, slow down at all yellow lights, and abide by all traffic laws, so I do not have any personal information regarding this subject (insert weird yellow smiley face thingy from my text messages here). Hopefully, my father will get in a bit of trouble next week for a new story.

In Gulfport

There are three red light cameras in Gulfport:

  • West Bound on Gulfport Blvd. S. & 58th St S.
  • South Bound on 49th St. & 15th Ave S.
  • East Bound on Gulfport Blvd. S. & 49th St. S.

For more information, the Gulfport Police Department has a "Red Light Camera FAQ" section on the department's website.

There are 11 red light cameras in St. Petersburg, including one at 34th St. S. & 22nd Ave S., which is a common route for Gulfport drivers going to and from I-275.

For more information about the red light cameras in St. Petersburg and to find where the intersections are, check out the St. Pete Patch.

DJH April 25, 2012 at 05:28 PM
The bigger problem is that Pinellas County threatens citizens and tries to bully citizens into not contesting tickets. This is not new, and it predates the red light cameras. Years ago, I got a ticket from a Sheriff. The ticket was unjustified and I would have fought it, except that when I went to the courthouse two separate people "reminded" me that if I contested the ticket, the penalty could be much worse. What kind of justice is that? When you defend yourself, you risk being penalized for it? That's always bugged me. I can't believe that the citizens of Pinellas have put up with that kind of treatment. Where is the outrage?
Dawn Lawrence April 25, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I have lived in several different states and ALWAYS my driving record got me out of the occasional ticket. (But I had to go to court for that to happen ) Once every 10 years I took a class and the ticket cost was either reduced or waived. Little did I know that was ALL OVER once i got to Florida! .When I got my camera ticket (turn on red without enough stop!) in Temple Terrace I thought i could just boycott the place and solve things that way. But NO! The cameras are following me around. So I use Martin Luther King or 275 instead of 4th Street and get my gas or stop in for lunch elsewhere. I would LOVE to see how much revenue is being brought in by actual red light running through the intersection versus other infractions. There is no way there were millions of people running straight thru red lights in little Temple Terrace.
DJH April 25, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I have stopped making right turn on red altogether due to these cameras. Since I don't trust the yellow light, as the red light camera company has been repeatedly accused of shortening yellow to increase revenue, I use the crosswalk countdown to stop in advance of yellow. Some of the crosswalk counters aren't timed to the thoroughfare green, so you look like an idiot coming to a stop on green. But what else are you supposed to do? Simply accept that one day you'll get a budget bomb in the mail? I don't have $150 so that we can have another palm tree in the median strip.
Dawn Lawrence April 25, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Maybe I'll have a "This vehicle doesn't turn on Red" sticker made up for my car...and turn up my stereo!
Dawn Lawrence April 25, 2012 at 06:35 PM
YES!...and Why on earth wasn't that done to begin with???? Where is the statewide petition? I'll take it everywhere I go...

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