Photo enforcement tickets still hold up in court - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Photo enforcement tickets still hold up in court

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Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2006 7:32 am | Updated: 4:33 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A recent letter to the Tribune from Roger Hartstone of Flagstaff was rather provocative. “The city of Scottsdale and its Australian partner, Redflex Traffic Systems, have yet to be held accountable for repeated violations of Arizona law while maintaining their Loop 101 speed trap.”

Hartstone’s letter didn’t explain these alleged violations, and it seemed unfathomable that Scottsdale would issue nearly 190,000 speeding tickets during a test of freeway cameras while breaking state law. So I asked Hartstone to justify his letter.

Most of Hartstone’s arguments have been raised before, and rejected by the courts, such as only police officers can issue a ticket (the law allows “a duly authorized agent,” such as contract employees of a speed camera company) and tickets sent by mail aren’t valid. (The Tribune has reported that’s true. But ignoring a mailed ticket places a speeder at risk of paying the extra cost of having the ticket served in person.)

Then Hartstone said something that grabbed my attention. “A Maricopa County Superior Court judge told Scottsdale the tickets are illegal — twice.”

Hartstone turned out to be right on that point, sort of. In October 2005 and again a month later, Superior Court Judge Margaret Downie ruled that Scottsdale’s method of issuing tickets from speed cameras at intersections (the freeway test hadn’t started yet) was contrary to a state law that requires a human to review any evidence against someone and allege a crime.

Scottsdale’s problem was the person whose name was printed by computer as issuing the ticket never actually looked at anything. Mesa and some other cities that use photo enforcement require a police officer to review the pictures and seek to verify the driver’s identity before mailing a ticket. But Scottsdale decided it could comply with the law by directing a Redflex employee to review the evidence, and that person’s name would be printed on the ticket.

Almost a year later, Downie ruled in a third case that Scottsdale’s changes were enough to satisfy the law. “The standard at issue is ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that the person named in the complaint committed the described violation,” Downie said in Arizona v. Morrone. “This is a relatively low threshold.”

Hartstone said he persuaded a Scottsdale city judge to dismiss his June freeway speeding ticket because he wasn’t served properly. But city officials are comfortable the speed cameras are legal.

“Some rulings on technical issues have prompted us to adjust some aspects of the program,” said Scottsdale spokesman Mike Phillips. “But no court has ever ruled against photo enforcement as a concept.”

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