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:

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.

Tony Althaus November 07, 2011 at 12:39 PM
With the basis of the ticket being "you were caught on camera" what's to stop me as a daily driver to film another driver doing illegal activity and sending them a fine? The bad and intimidating thing about the red light tickets is if you try to fight if you risk the fine being doubled as well as court cost, but with no points toward your license so what do you learn?
Rich Bridges November 07, 2011 at 01:46 PM
I do NOT agree with the red light cameras!! If you want to catch me running a red light (which I NEVER do), station an officer out there to catch me! This is cowardly and unconstitutional and I think they should be BANNED nationwide! What has become of this nation? SAD!!
Rich Bridges November 07, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Great point Tony!! I concur!!!
Frank Verdino November 07, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Can I clear up 2 things? First, the camera company forwards all possible violations to the Gulfport PD where once a week an officer reviews them and determines if a ticket should be issued. I don't really have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is.... Second, the real unconstitutionality of the camera is that the ticket is simply issued to the person to whom the car is registered. So, if someone else is driving your car you get penalized for their actions. If I was DUI in your vehicle would you get your license suspended?
Dawn Lawrence November 07, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Where do I sign on to fight this? Sign me up...
Lynda November 07, 2011 at 07:46 PM
People have died because too many drivers thought the rule to stop at a red light just didn't apply to them. They felt so important that they could drive as fast as they chose to through any red light rather than obey the rules that apply to the rest of us. If cities had the money to station a traffic cop at every troubled intersection, it would be one solution for unemployment. Unfortunately technology is the next best thing to prevent the death of innocent people. Many more people die in traffic accidents than in terrorist attacks on planes. If we as citizens are willing to practically strip naked for the TSA to prevent terrorists from taking over a plane, I think we can put up with a little inconvenience from red light cameras designed to prevent traffic deaths.
Jeremy T. Simons, Esq. November 07, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Editor Charlene Willis did a great job on taking my basic story meant for the entire Tampa Bay region and getting some specific details for the Gulfport community.
Cherlene Willis November 07, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Thanks Jeremy!
Robert Vincent November 10, 2011 at 02:45 AM
I feel it is important to point out a pertinent fact that was omitted in this column. Every single red light violation detected by a camera in Gulfport is independently and thoroughly reviewed by a sworn police officer before a notice of violation or citation is issued. The premise that the entire process is automated is simply not true.
Cherlene Willis November 10, 2011 at 03:05 AM
Thank you Robert for adding that information for our readers! If anyone is curious about the process specifically in Gulfport, you can also check out the "Red Light Cameras Warning Period Ends, Now Citations Will be Issued" story - from March of this year: http://patch.com/A-fXYp
Shannon Pelley November 24, 2011 at 05:13 PM
The issue most people have with the cameras is not that a law is being enforced in an automated fashion, but the broader issue of innocent until proven guilty. The state has to prove you committed a crime. If an officer pulls me over and decides to write me a traffic ticket, he is writing ME the ticket because i was caught doing something illegal. But if someone else uses my car illegally they will issue the CAR the ticket. If the driver is speeding, or weaving, or any number of other things, THEY are breaking the law. In some areas these cameras take a picture of the drivers face. If that is the case i am all for it. But if it is just a picture of your car running a light and there is no positive ID of the driver, how can you justify ticketing me? This could never happen in reality, but suppose someone took the license plate from my car, put it on the back of another car of the same make/model/color, ran a red-light and then returned the plate to my car before it was noticed? Not only did I not break the law but my car was not even involved. Everyone is for safe intersections and more attentive drivers but first we have to be for the rule of law and the protections the law gives us.
Shannon Pelley November 24, 2011 at 05:15 PM
But does the officer review who was driving at the time of the violation or just verify that the license plate in the photo matches the car of record to which the citation is being issued?
Juju Stevens December 23, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Camera driven traffic citations are driven by what's called a presumptive driver statute. That means exactly what it says: the owner of the car is presumed to be the driver and, hence, the ticket is issued to that person. You can contest the ticket by proving that it wasn't you driving the car. Places where similar statutes allowing for red light cameras have come to court generally have failed in properly tailoring the associated presumptive driver provisions and recourse for the person who loaned the car to some moron.
mtober March 01, 2012 at 12:17 PM
What happens when someone else is driving your car and parks illegally and a citation is issued? Who gets that ticket and who is ultimately responsible?
DJH April 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM
My primary objection to the red light cameras is that they are a private business engaging in law enforcement and profiting from it. Moreover, if you spend any time at all in South Pasadena, you will notice that where the Sheriff cars once sat is now a camera zone- and no Sheriffs have been seen there since. So Pasadena appears to be on the same system St Pete is on - police come only when called, there is nothing in the way of meaningful patrol. The great part about the Gulfport police is that they actually patrol and stop problems before they happen. I've been wondering though: If a car triggers the camera at Walgreens and a cop is watching, will the officer pull the car over or assume that the camera has taken care of it?
DJH April 25, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Put the cameras to referendum.
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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