Monday, January 12, 2015
C.A. Cites Expert Testimony, Tosses Red Light Camera Conviction
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal Friday overturned a red-light camera conviction, saying the defendant, through expert testimony, overcame the statutory presumptions regarding the validity of evidence obtained via an automated traffic enforcement system.
Div. Two ruled in the case of Viktors Retke, who challenged a citation he received in Riverside in 2012.
The operator of Riverside’s Redflex system, a retired sheriff’s deputy, offered digital photographs and a 12-second video clip to support his testimony that Retke was driving 15 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone, that the yellow light interval was 3.65 seconds, that Retke was about six feet behind the limit line when the signal had been red for close to a second, and that the vehicle failed to stop for the light and continued to make a right turn.
On cross-examination, the operator acknowledged that he could not tell if Redflex’s monthly inspections included verification of the time intervals for the lights, and that he did not know if any city employee checked to make sure the system was calibrated properly.
The defense expert, an engineer, testified that he had taken video clips of the site before and after Retke’s alleged infraction, and that the yellow light interval on each occasion was 3.5 seconds, plus or minus 0.07 seconds. This would violate the state’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which requires that a yellow light at an intersection along a 35 mph roadway have an interval of at least 3.6 seconds.
The defense argued, based on that testimony, that the system was sufficiently unreliable to create a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Riverside Superior Court Commissioner William Anderson Jr. disagreed and fined Retke $490.
The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction, but granted the defendant’s motion that the case be certified for transfer to the Court of Appeal, where Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez concluded that the defendant should have been acquitted based on the expert’s unrefuted testimony.
The trial judge, Ramirez said, misapplied the presumptions created by Evidence Code §§1552 and 1553 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.
In People v. Goldsmith (2014) 59 Cal.4th 258, the jurist explained, the high court held, based on the two Evidence Code sections, that testimony on the reliability and accuracy of a red-light camera system’s hardware and software—as distinguished from the visual representations of the data—is not required as a prerequisite to admission of evidence generated by the computer.
But in Retke’s case, Ramirez went on to say, the judicial officer treated the statutory presumptions as affecting the burden of proof, rather than the burden of producing evidence. This was contrary to Goldsmith, he explained, where the high court “observed that such presumptions do not require any weight to be given to the evidence if admitted, did not reduce the prosecution’s burden of proof to show defendant’s violation beyond a reasonable doubt, and did not deny the defendant a fair opportunity to rebut the presumed accuracy or reliability of the offered evidence.”
The engineer’s testimony, Ramirez explained, undermined the presumptions and shifted to the city the burden of refuting the inference that the yellow light interval was too short for Retke to safely stop when the light turn red. “Because the digital images were previewed by Redflex before being forwarded to the Riverside Police Department, and because digital images are susceptible to manipulation, it was incumbent upon the City to introduce evidence that the printed representations were accurate,” the jurist wrote.
Justice Carol Codrington concurred in the opinion.
Justice Jeffrey King dissented, arguing there was substantial evidence of guilt. The expert’s testimony regarding the yellow light interval, he said, “was relevant to whether defendant had sufficient time to stop before the light turned red, but the testimony in no way indicated that the critical still photographs and the time stamps on those photographs did not show what they purported to show: defendant running the red light.”
“Even if the yellow light interval was only 3.5 seconds, not the 3.6 seconds depicted on the still photographs, the photographs show the light was red and had been red for an appreciable amount of time when defendant entered the intersection. Other evidence showed that in a 35-mile-per-hour zone, the yellow light interval should be 3.6 seconds. But here, defendant was only traveling at 15 miles per hour as he approached and ran the light.”
The case is People v. Retke, 15 S.O.S. 143.
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