9/27/2012California Court of Appeal Takes Red Light Camera Case
Another California Court of Appeal panel takes on the question of whether red light camera trials violate the Sixth Amendment.
The second highest court in California announced last week it would take up the issue of red light cameras once again. The topic has been hotly contested among the justices on the Court of Appeal with decisions handed down in favor of the use of cameras, and opposing them. In January, the Second Appellate District struck down photo ticket evidence as hearsay (view ruling) only to have another panel from the same district come to the opposite conclusion a month later (view ruling).
Last week, Fourth Appellate District Division Two supported the right of residents in Murrieta to vote November 6 on whether to forbid the use of automated ticketing machines (view ruling). This is the division that will take up the case of Donovan Winters who successfully argued without a lawyer that the ticket Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia mailed to him was invalid.
Winters first used the option of trial by written declaration in which he sent in his "not guilty" plea by mail. It was rejected. He was granted a fresh hearing before San Bernardino County Superior Court Commissioner Patrick L. Singer in Victorville on October 4, 2011. At trial, Barbara Hill, a civilian employee from the county sheriff's department served as the witness for the prosecution, reading the same three-page statement that serves as the foundation for the admission of the red light camera evidence in every trial.
After Hill testified that she was not present at the time of the alleged offense and had no idea who manufactured the camera or computer equipment used, Winters moved to dismiss her evidence as hearsay. Under the Sixth Amendment, the accused have the right to confront the witnesses against them.
"Since none of Hill's testimony included declarations by an out-of-court declarant and the photographs and video constituted demonstrative evidence and did not meet any definition of hearsay in the evidence code," Commissioner Singer ruled against Winters, noting he did not subpoena any witnesses from Redflex.
Winters did not rest, taking his case to the next step. He filed an appeal with a three-judge panel of the Superior Court's appellate division. The panel was unanimous not only in overturning Singer's June ruling, but also in ordering their decision to serve as precedent in San Bernardino County.
"The trial court was mistaken," the appellate judges wrote. "Under the evidence code, photographs and videotapes are considered 'writings.' Accordingly, they are subject to the same foundational and hearsay rules as all writings."
As such, the appellate judges found the photographs had to be properly authenticated, which means having the person who had been present testify that it accurately depicts what it purports to show. Instead of a Redflex employee, Hill testified despite not being involved in the taking of any photos.
"She did not testify to any personal knowledge of the contents of the photographic images or the method of their creation, storage or transmission -- instead she recited a prepared statement that contained no evidence that she was testifying to facts within her own knowledge, or even that she had prepared the statement herself," the appellate judges ruled. "At most, Ms. Hill testified she had attended training sessions on the red light camera system three times since January 2011, and displayed a general familiarity with the system. She did not, and logically could not, attest that the photos or videos were true representations of what they purported to depict because she had no personal knowledge."
The judges also insisted the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution does not put the burden on a defendant to subpoena witnesses against him. It is up to the prosecution to do so, according to the US Supreme Court's 2009 decision Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.
"Accordingly, the erroneous admission of evidence resulted in a miscarriage of justice, and the judgment must be reversed," the appellate division concluded.
The Court of Appeal ordered the first briefs ready by October 17 with the briefing process complete within 90 days. A copy of the appellate division ruling from June is available in a 900k PDF file at the source link below.