Friday, June 6, 2014
State Supreme Court Approves Use of Evidence Obtained By Use of Red Light Camera System
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Testimony on the reliability and accuracy of computer hardware and software that make up an automated traffic light enforcement system—otherwise known as an ATES or red-light camera system—is not required as a prerequisite to admission of evidence generated by the computer, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
The justices affirmed the red-light camera conviction of Carmen Goldsmith, rejecting her claim that computer-generated photographs and a video of her allegedly running a red light were improperly admitted at her trial in Inglewood.
The decision upholds rulings of the Los Angeles Superior Court Appellate Division and this district’s Court of Appeal.
An investigator for the Inglewood Police Department testified at Goldsmith’s trial that he inspected the traffic signal at the intersection of Centinela Ave. and Beach Ave. on a monthly basis and that the average yellow light interval in February and March 2009 was a little over four seconds. The California Highway Patrol has established a minimum interval of 3.9 seconds for a 40-miles-per-hour highway.
The investigator explained that the city’s automated traffic enforcement system, operated by the IPD but maintained by Redflex Traffic Systems, generates three digital photographs and a 12-second video when sensors indicate that a car is in the intersection while the light is red.
One photograph in the sequence will show the care behind the limit line, a second will show the vehicle in the intersection, and the third will show the license plate. The system will store information on the hard disc of a computer at the scene, and Redflex will retrieve the information online.
A police office then reviews the photographs before a citation is printed or mailed.
In Goldsmith’s case, the data bar on the photos indicated that the light had been red for 0.27 seconds before Goldsmith entered the intersection and that she was still in the red-lighted intersection 0.66 seconds later.
The court found her guilty and fined her $436. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the investigator’s testimony established an adequate foundation, that the accuracy of evidence generated by the data system was presumed, and that the defendant failed to rebut the presumption.
The Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting two contrary holdings, one from the Appellate Division and one from this district’s Div. Seven.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the city’s use of an ATES was authorized by statute, and that the officer’s testimony was properly admitted to provide a foundation for the admission of the data generated by the system.
The chief justice cited Evidence Code Secs. 1552(a) and 1553, establishing the presumption that printed representations of computer information and of images stored on a video or digital medium are accurate representations of the computer information and images they purport to represent.
There was no need, however, to establish the accuracy and reliability of the data in the computer itself, as opposed to that of the visual representations of the data, Cantil-Sakauye wrote. The photographs and video were not hearsay, and the data printed on the photographs by the computer was not hearsay, she said.
The chief justice explained:
“Evidence Code section 1200 defines hearsay as ‘evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated.’... A statement, in turn, is defined as an ‘oral or written verbal expression or . . . nonverbal conduct of a person intended by him as a substitute for oral or written verbal expression.’
“The ATES-generated photographs and video introduced here as substantive evidence of defendant’s infraction are not statements of a person as defined by the Evidence Code….Therefore, they do not constitute hearsay as statutorily defined….Because the computer controlling the ATES digital camera automatically generates and imprints data information on the photographic image, there is similarly no statement being made by a person regarding the data information so recorded.
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Robert Cooper of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker for the defendant and by Kira L. Klatchko of Best Best & Krieger for Inglewood.
The case is People v. Goldsmith, 14 S.O.S. 2848.
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