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7/27/2012
2002 Colorado Supreme Court Case First to Question Photo Ticketing
A 2002 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court upheld state restrictions on the use of automated ticketing machines.

Nancy E. RiceAfter more than a decade, questions on the constitutionality of red light cameras and speed cameras remain far from settled. Courts in Missouri are currently wrestling with the question of whether it is lawful for cities to use red light cameras even though they are not authorized under state law (view case). Likewise, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday ordered attorneys to transmit copies of briefs as part of what the high court labeled a "high-profile appeal" of a decision that found camera tickets issued prior to legislative approval were illegal (view case). In 2002, Colorado's highest court ruled on a similar question.

The cities of Colorado Springs, Commerce City, Fort Collins and Westminster -- with the support of Boulder and Loveland -- argued they were not subject to state regulation with respect to automated ticketing machines because these cities had home-rule powers and the issue was strictly a matter of local interest. They objected to state requirements that tickets be served within ninety days, that a sign had to be posted warning motorists where the devices were used, that first-time alleged offenders accused by the machine of speeding less than 10 MPH over the limit be given a warning, and that fines be limited to $75 for red light and $40 for speeding citations.

Colorado Springs, Commerce City, Fort Collins and Westminster had each adopted ticketing program ordinances in 1996 and 1997. Only Commerce City and Fort Collins began issuing tickets, or, more accurately, their vendor did.

"A private, out-of-state corporation decided whether to issue a citation based on considerations such as the clarity of the driver's photograph, whether the gender of the driver in the photograph matched the registered owner of the vehicle, and whether the license number could be clearly read," Justice Nancy E. Rice wrote. "After making a decision, the corporation itself, rather than the police, directly issued the automated-system citations."

In response to complaints about the programs, the General Assembly in 1997 and 1999 adopted statutes imposing uniform regulations statewide. The legal question became whether this was a matter of truly local concern.

"In this case, in addition to the clear legislative declaration that the enforcement of traffic laws through the use of automated vehicle identification systems (AVIS) is a matter of statewide concern, the undisputed facts and the substantially different nature of this enforcement technology evidences a clear need for uniform standards," Justice Rice wrote. "Given the nature of the Front Range and Denver Metropolitan areas, a driver could pass through multiple jurisdictions in a simple daily commute to work. Without uniform state legislation, Colorado drivers may be subject to a significant variety of conflicting local legislation, further increasing the potential for confusion and substantially affecting their expectations.... The fact that about 90 percent of tickets in Commerce City were issued to non-residents distinctively demonstrates the effect of its AVIS use on Colorado citizens in general."

Because the court found the cameras were of mixed state and local interest, the state statute was upheld under the state constitution.

The high court in Minnesota also overturned unauthorized camera programs (view ruling). The Ohio Supreme Court (read opinion) and Iowa Supreme Court upheld the use of unauthorized cameras (read opinion). A copy of the 2002 decision is available at the source link below.

Source: Commerce City v. Colorado (Supreme Court of Colorado, 2/11/2002)



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