Monday, August 30, 2010
Court Sides With Motorist in Red Light Camera Case
Panel Says Warning Program Required at Each Intersection When Devices Installed
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The statutory requirement of a 30-day warning program before a locality may issue citations to motorists caught on automated cameras going through red lights applies each time the devices are installed at a new intersection, the Orange Superior Court Appellate Division has ruled.
The panel, in a July 23 decision, sided with a motorist ticketed for running a light at a Santa Ana intersection where no red light camera warning program had been instituted. In doing so, it rejected the city’s argument that the requirement was satisfied when the city installed its first red light cameras six years earlier.
The ruling is now final after the Court of Appeal denied transfer, and was posted Friday on the state courts website.
In ruling for the motorist, Danny Byongun Park, the panel said the city and Superior Court Commissioner Daniel Ornelas had misinterpreted Vehicle Code Sec. 21455.5(b), which reads:
“Prior to issuing citations under this section, a local jurisdiction utilizing an automated traffic enforcement system shall commence a program to issue only warning notices for 30 days. The local jurisdiction shall also make a public announcement of the automated traffic enforcement system at least 30 days prior to the commencement of the enforcement program.”
Judge Gregory Lewis, writing for the Appellate Division, said the plain meaning of the word “system” is intersection-specific in the context of Sec. 21455.5(a). That portion of the section says that an “intersection...may be equipped with an automated enforcement system,” so that “system,” as used in the following subdivision, “cannot refer to a municipality’s overall automated enforcement plan, but must instead refer to each individual set of automated equipment operated at an intersection within the municipal jurisdiction,” Lewis said.
The city’s own documents, introduced at Park’s trial, also refer to a “Red Light Enforcement System” at a specific intersection and to “intersections where the Automated Red Light Enforcement Systems are operated,” the judge also noted.
While the language is clear, he went on to say, legislative history also supports the defendant’s interpretation.
The red light camera legislation, he noted, was written in 1995 and expanded the use of “automated rail crossing enforcement systems” to encompass “all places where a driver is required to respond to an official traffic control signal showing different colored lights,” and adopted the term “automated enforcement system” to refer to red light cameras at both rail crossings and signalized intersections.
In 2003, Lewis pointed out, lawmakers rejected a proposal to limit the warning requirement to “the first 30 days after the first recording unit is installed.” The judge reasoned that “rejection of this language in a year when other amendments to the statute were enacted provides further evidence of a legislative intention for the 30-day warning period to continue to apply, instead, to each installation of automated enforcement equipment at an intersection.”
“It would make little sense for the scope of the 30-day warning period to be limited temporally and to be defined arbitrarily by the geographic size of the local jurisdiction, inasmuch as the legislatively stated purpose of the warning requirement is to deter red light violations. This purpose is best achieved by the issuance of new warnings and announcements to proximate users each time automated enforcement equipment commences operation at an intersection.”
The decision is the second published opinion in recent months to deliver a blow to Santa Ana’s red light camera program. The Appellate Division ruled in May—the decision became final last month—that the use of photographs and a police officer’s declaration to prove that a motorist ran a red light violated the Evidence Code and the driver’s constitutional right to confront his accuser.
That case was People v. Khaled, 30-2009-304893. The new case is People v. Park, 30-2009-00329670.
Lewis’ opinion was joined by Judge Josephine S. Tucker, who has since left the court for the federal bench. Judge Karen L. Robinson concurred in the judgment.
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