12/6/2012Washington City Charges Public $670 to Exercise Constitutional Right
Tacoma, Washington courthouse clerk demands $670 payment to exercise rights under the Confrontation Clause in red light camera case.
Red light camera ticket recipients in Tacoma, Washington are being told they need to buy $30 meals and $114 hotel rooms for employees of an Australian company if they want to exercise their rights under the Sixth Amendment. Motorist Kevin Schmadeka had gone to the courthouse to gather information to use to defend himself found out he was supposed to pay a total of $670 in travel expenses for an employee of Redflex Traffic Systems if he wanted to confront the witnesses against him.
"When I was at the clerk's office inquiring about chain-of-custody information, the employee at the counter mentioned that if I wanted to subpoena a camera company representative that there was a fee," Schmadeka told TheNewspaper. "Later on I thought about that some more and made another inquiry by phone, also requesting documentation about how such a charge was authorized. The clerk I spoke to at that time had no explanations to offer, but did send me the request form."
Redflex had mailed Schmadeka a ticket accusing him of running a red light at the corner of Pacific Avenue and 72nd Street in Tacoma on September 19. According to the form provided by the court (see source link below), the money must be provided in the form of a check payable to Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. and mailed to the Australian firm's office in Phoenix, Arizona. The accused must also sign a statement accepting the charges.
"I acknowledge that the costs associated with subpoenaing the photo technicians are my responsibility and if payment is not received in 15 days -- NO technician will be subpoenaed for your court date," the court-provided notice states.
Photo ticketing firms have been facing increased pressure since the 2009 US Supreme Court ruling in the case Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (view decision), which dealt with laboratory analysis of drug evidence. A defendant argued that he had a right to question the lab worker who signed a piece of paper that certified the substance he had been carrying was cocaine. The majority agreed that despite the possible hassle involved in confirming each fact at trial, it is essential to the integrity of the court system that such questioning of the evidence be allowed.
Tacoma sought to avoid the inconvenience by forcing defendants to pay for the cost of confronting the witnesses against them. Schmadeka added this to a long list of constitutional concerns he brought before a judge.
"If the city considers it too expensive and burdensome to fly a camera company representative to Washington every time a defendant wishes to cross-examine them, the city should consider this obligation when making their decision to outsource local law enforcement duties to privately-owned, for-profit out-of-state companies," Schmadeka said.
The judge singled out the Sixth Amendment issue and dismissed the charges against Schmadeka. A copy of the request form is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.