Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Bill of Rights v. Red Light Cameras

Red light cameras are springing up everywhere.  And they're unconstitutional.

Most municipalities red light camera schemes work like this . . . the cameras are installed by vendors "free of charge" at various intersections.  The cameras snap photographs of vehicles that violate red lights and then the registered owner of the vehicle is mailed a ticket.  Whether the owner of the vehicle was actually driving at the time of the violation, however, is unknown.  The photographs don't show the driver.  When the tickets are paid, the City gets a cut and the vendor gets a cut.  Everybody's happy and all involved get to claim, rightly or wrongly, that they're making the world a safer place.

But what happens if the owner of the vehicle had loaned it to somebody else?  Well, the owner still gets the ticket and has to pay it unless he or she testifies about who was driving.  And that's where a violation of the Fifth Amendment comes in.

Under these red light camera schemes, the accused vehicle owner is presumed guilty of the violation and required testify to prove his innocence.  But the Fifth Amendment guarantees that "no person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

In a conversation with a local prosecutor several months ago, the prosecutor admitted to knowing that these schemes were unconstitutional.  The municipalities and the camera vendors, however, banked (literally) on citizens not knowing their rights or, if they did, not wanting to spend more on legal fees than the fine itself.

If prosecutors in Arnold, Missouri, felt the same way, they didn't know Chet Pleban.  Pleban is a local attorney whose friends must even admit there's never been a media outlet that he didn't like.  His name crops up from time to time in various newsworthy cases.  Whether for the publicity or the principle, Pleban has filed suit on behalf of two Arnold residents who received a ticket in the mail.  More power to him.  In this case, he and his clients are right on the money.


Anonymous said...

Easy fix to that - don't allow the arguement that "I wasn't the one driving my car". It's not written up as a moving violation, so it doesn't put points on your license. Fine the vehicle owner for letting someone else use is car unsafely, and call it a day. If I let somebody use my car, and they get a ticket or get in an accident, they won't be using my car again regardless of whether or not I had to pay the fine.

I don't necessarily think that red light cameras going to solve the problem of running lights. When people know the camera's there, they'll jam on their breaks instead of going through a yellow and cause rear end accidents instead.

St. Louis Conservative said...

But running a red light is necessarily a moving violation. It can't be done standing still. And as Chet Pleban in the Post-Dispatch article points out, Missouri law requires the assessment of points on all moving violations.