A potential landmark decision regarding red-light cameras is working its
way through the California courts system. As of April 2014, the case,
People v. Goldsmith, is before the Supreme Court.
The facts are very typical for most red light camera cases. Ms. Goldsmith
ran a red light in Inglewood and the alleged offense was caught on camera.
She received a citation for $436 in the mail; tellingly, red light camera
fines in other states average about $100, or less than
one-fourth of the fine Ms. Goldsmith was ordered to pay. She took the ticket to court
and lost, then appealed the ticket and lost again. Undaunted, Ms. Goldsmith
continues to appeal.
The legal argument centers around a provision of the Sixth Amendment called the
Confrontation Clause. That clause simply states that accused persons in criminal cases have
the right to directly confront the witnesses against them. Sometimes the
witness is a machine, such as a red light camera. Machines cannot testify,
but a person operates that machine. Ms. Goldsmith argues that the state
should have called the technician who prepared the data as a witness at
her trial. No technician appeared.
But the underlying argument goes back to the excessive amount of the fine:
red light cameras are simply a revenue-generating device. That may explain
why the cameras are falling out of favor in many larger communities, but
smaller towns are keeping the devices.
Ms. Goldsmith's argument does have
some support, meaning that attorneys practicing in Bakersfield may make similar arguments
on your behalf. If the Supreme Court grants review, a decision can be
expected sometime later this year.