4/27/2012California: Federal Court Takes on Photo Enforcement Hearsay Issue
US District Court for the Central District of California hears red light camera hearsay class action suit.
California courts are split on the issue of whether US Supreme Court precedent invalidates evidence typically provided by red light cameras. The Court of Appeal, number-two in state's the judicial hierarchy, issued a pair of rulings within a few weeks coming to contradictory conclusions on this question (view case). On Wednesday, US District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker issued the standard order laying down the rules for an upcoming court battle on this issue between motorist Michael Curran and the city of Victorville along with Redflex Traffic Systems (RTS).
Curran filed a class action suit after receiving a citation in the mail that, he argued, violated the Confrontation Clause principles upheld in the 2009 US Supreme Court case Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (view case).
"Plaintiff received his citation after a RTS computer signed the name of an officer (Barbara Hill) to an RTS computer generated 'Notice of Traffic Violation' despite the fact that Officer Barbara Hill did not contemporaneously observe the alleged infraction in California nor on an Arizona computer screen, and caused it to be sent out with a RTS computer-generated proof of service, signed by a RTS computer operator and likely mailed by another RTS bulk mailer-type computer on or about October 4, 2011," Curran's attorney, Robert D. Conaway, wrote wrote in court filings.
The Supreme Court ruled that the actual individuals who generated scientific evidence must be present to testify at trial. On this basis, Curran in December gave notice of his intention to file the suit in San Bernardino County Superior Court. Redflex believed it would have a better shot by transferring the case to a federal jurisdiction where judges have been more sympathetic to photo ticketing. It did so by denying the company operates in California.
"Redflex admits that it has an office in Culver City, California, but responds that its headquarters and principal place of business are in Arizona," Redflex attorney Anna R. Buono wrote. "Redflex denies that it conducts or conducted substantial business operations in California."
In a court filing last Friday, Redflex flatly denied Curran and Conaway's allegations without getting into the substance of the issue. Curran hopes to have the case certified as a class action and seeks damages under Section 1983 of the US Code, which provides for restitution when governmental agencies act with a systemic disregard for constitutional rights.
"The city has a custom and practice of allowing the city police to present evidence and testify on matters as alleged above and incorporated herein by reference that violate the procedural due process rights of the cited citizens, despite opinions highlighting the city's police officer's failures to properly prepare to and in fact on testify without the required personal knowledge of the facts, systematically failing to contemporaneously observe any alleged infractions and the failure to lay proper foundation and authenticate photo, video and other related data allegedly gathered from RTS system," Conaway wrote.