Friday, March 14, 2014
Notice Required Each Time City Installs Red Light Cameras—S.C.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A state law requiring 30 days’ notice to the public when a city installs red light cameras at an intersection applies each time the devices are put in place, not just the first time a particular city does so, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing for a unanimous court, said the Court of Appeal for this district erred in accepting Culver City’s argument that it fully complied with Vehicle Code §21455.5(b) by giving notice of its installation of what is officially known as an “automated traffic enforcement system” at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and La Cienega Boulevard in 1998.
The statute says that “a local jurisdiction utilizing an automated traffic enforcement system shall commence a program to issue only warning notices for 30 days” and “shall also make a public announcement of the automated traffic enforcement system at least 30 days prior to the commencement of the enforcement program.”
But while rejecting the city’s interpretation of the notice requirement, the high court affirmed Steven Gray’s conviction for running a red light camera at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Helms Avenue in November 2008.
No Prerequisite to Enforcement
Kennard reasoned that the city’s failure to comply with the statute is not a defense because the Legislature did not make compliance a jurisdictional prerequisite to enforcement. Nor can Gray claim that his due process rights were violated, the justice said, because he ran the light more than two years after the camera was installed, and was therefore outside the class of persons lawmakers intended to protect.
Gray was found guilty by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, and his conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeal. The courts acknowledged conflict with an earlier Appellate Division decision, People v. Park (2010) 187 Cal.App.4th Supp. 9.
The city argued that the statutory reference to an enforcement “system” referred to the overall program of installing red light cameras. But that interpretation, Kennard said, is inconsistent with the usage of “system” elsewhere in the chapter.
“For example, subdivision (a) of section 21455.5 states that ‘[t]he limit line, the intersection, or a place designated in Section 21455 . . . may be equipped with an automated traffic enforcement system . . . .’ As used there, the word ‘system’ necessarily refers to the specific equipment in operation at a particular intersection, not to the entire citywide red light camera enforcement program.”
Kennard gave additional examples, such as the requirements that signs be posted “within 200 feet of an intersection where a system is operating,” that cities locate “the system at an intersection,” that the city perform certain other obligations at “an intersection at which there is an automated enforcement system in operation,” and that installation of new cameras after Jan. 1, 2013 be supported by “a finding of fact establishing that the system is needed at a specific location for reasons related to safety.”
Kennard acknowledged that language elsewhere in the chapter could be read as supporting the city’s interpretation. But legislative history shows the opposite, she explained.
The justice was more favorable to the city’s alternative argument that Gray was lawfully convicted under either interpretation. Unlike other sections of the Vehicle Code, such as the “speedtrap” law, the Legislature did not include language in §21555.5 suggesting that the consequences of a locality’s noncompliance included a loss of the right to prosecute violators.
“When, as here, a statute sets forth a procedural requirement but does not set forth any penalty for noncompliance, a party may reasonably question whether the statute is merely directory, not mandatory,” she wrote.
Kennard went on to say:
“Here, section 21455.5(b)’s requirement of a 30-day period of warning notices was for the benefit of those violators whose red light violations at the intersection in question occurred when the red light camera first became operational. Because the requirement lapsed, by its own terms, after 30 days, it could not have been for the benefit of a violator like defendant, whose red light violation at the intersection occurred more than two years later. Therefore, if the city had issued a citation to a driver during the 30-day period when it should have been issuing warning notices under section 21455.5(b), that driver could have challenged the citation on the basis of noncompliance with the statute. Defendant here, however, is not among the class of people that the 30-day period of warning notices was intended to benefit, and therefore he may not invoke the City’s noncompliance with the warning notice requirement to invalidate his traffic citation.”
The case of People v. Gray, 14 S.O.S. 1292.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company