The Koger Building
Corner of 9th Street North & Gandy Blvd.
9721 Executive Center Drive North, Suite 120
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Issued by St. Petersburg, Clearwater, South Pasadena, Gulfport, Kenneth City
Some critics say that municipalities within Pinellas County are feeling the financial squeeze. As a result, they are using their new red light cameras as a means to increase falling revenue under the guise of public safety. Consider that San Diego, California recently collected almost $30 million from their red light cameras in just eighteen months. One camera alone produced nearly $7 million. It could be that city officials have cooked up a creative and effective way to reach into your wallet. With the musical sound track of a ringing cash register, their red light cameras are live. For that reason, you need to stay vigilant and alert behind the wheel.
The “Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act” (Florida Statute 316.0083) mandates that a $158 fine be imposed upon the registered owner of a vehicle that passes through a red light, regardless of who was actually driving the vehicle. However, if timely paid, enforcement of the notice of violation is not considered a conviction and points are not made part of the owner’s driving record. Unsurprisingly, a portion of the revenue generated from the issuance of the notice of violation goes into the State’s general revenue fund. However, the big winner is the city. They get to keep $75 out of each and every $158 notice of violation.
One school of thought is to comply with the “Notice of Violation” and simply pay the $158 within 60 days from the date it is mailed. After all, there are no points that go on the driving record and it eliminates the risk that the fine will increase or that points could be assessed (if you challenge the violation and lose). On the other hand, there are downsides to paying the “Notice of Violation.” The obvious problem that arises is when you weren’t actually driving the vehicle, yet have to suffer the penalty for another person’s actions. Furthermore, it sends the message to the government that the use of red light cameras is an acceptable means of generating revenue and enforcing traffic laws, when the studies show no rational relationship between the use of cameras and the reduction of traffic accidents.
The Affidavit of Defense Method
You can challenge the citation by submitting a sworn, notarized affidavit that alleges one of the following five defenses:
A.) You ran the red light in order to yield the right of way to an emergency vehicle or a funeral procession;
B.) You ran the red light at the direction of a law enforcement officer;
C.) Another person was operating the vehicle;
D.) You were already written a traffic citation for the same offense by a law enforcement officer; or
E.) The owner of the motor vehicle was deceased on or before the date that the alleged red light violation occurred.
Note: Filing a false affidavit constitutes a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Unfortunately, Florida law provides that the “legal sufficiency” of the affidavit is determined by the city! In other words, the very government entity that is trying to collect the ticket proceeds is given the authority to decide if you have drafted the correct form for the affidavit or pled a valid defense. However, if your affidavit and defense are deemed acceptable, the violation will be dismissed. If it is not, then you will be issued a Uniform Traffic Citation.
Requesting an “Administrative Hearing”
As of July 1, 2013, the Florida Legislature has created an alternative method for an “administrative hearing” that is presided over by a “local hearing officer” employed by the municipality that issued the notice of violation. You may elect this route instead of filing an affidavit of defense. However, the “request” for a hearing must be made within 60 days of the date the notice of violation was mailed to you (not when you received it). At this administrative hearing, the formal rules of evidence do not apply. If the local hearing officer finds in your favor, the violation is dismissed. If not, the hearing officer will assess the $158 fine against you and an additional amount of up to $250.00 to cover court costs. If you want to appeal this decision, you must initiate a “Petition for Writ of Certiorari” to the Circuit Court, which is a complex, costly, and time consuming legal remedy. Because your appeal rights are limited in this manner and because the legislature saw fit to withdraw the protections of the formal rules of evidence at the administrative hearing, our office does not recommend that you fight the notice of violation in this manner.
Getting the Case to a Traffic Magistrate or County Court Judge
If you want to fight the Red Light Camera in a real court, you must first wait 60 days. Thereafter, you will be issued a Uniform Traffic Citation (i.e., a standard traffic ticket). This new ticket will be for “Failure to Stop at a Red Light” (Florida Statute 316.075) and carries a minimum fine of $256.00 and the threat of three points assessed against your driver’s license record. At this juncture, your options are to now either fight the citation or simply plead guilty by paying the higher fine. However, by utilizing this method, you can assure yourself of a hearing before an impartial traffic magistrate or county court judge where the formal rules of evidence are still in effect.
If you do nothing, and simply fail to respond to the initial “Notice of Violation” this will likewise cause the issuance of a Uniform Traffic Citation after 60 days that carries a minimum $256.00 fine and three possible points. Again, the options are now to either fight the case or plead guilty. Failure to deal with the Uniform Traffic Citation within the next 60 days will cause your driver’s license to be suspended.
Despite the efforts of the Florida Legislature to stack the deck against the motorists of this State and to upend the “presumption of innocence” that is a vital part of the American system of justice, there are a number of different methods for challenging Florida’s red light camera law:
Challenging the constitutionality of the red light camera law – As the statute is currently drafted, there are several constitutional arguments that can be raised. This includes issues related to the privilege against self-incrimination, due process, equal protection, and the presumption of innocence. These issues are currently being raised in our local court system. You can speak to us about the applicability in your case.
Raising Identity as a Defense – The red light cameras do not provide a method for the State to prove who was driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged offense. In most circumstances, the camera is mounted at an angle to capture the license plate and the vehicle traveling on the roadway. As a result, it is likely that no photographic evidence will exist to show who was actually driving. Convincing the court that the city can’t prove identity could result in a “not guilty” verdict.
Evidentiary Issues – Because a police officer did not actually see a violation, the city’s sole means of proof is limited to photographic evidence. As a result, there are a number of potential challenges that can be raised concerning the admissibility of that evidence. In particular, there may not be a witness who can lay the proper evidentiary “foundation” for the admission of the photographs and video into evidence. Florida courts almost always require testimony that photographs and video “fairly and accurately depict” the scene prior to the admission of such evidence.
Factual Defenses – The video or still photographs may show that the vehicle in question did not actually run the red light or that a right-hand turn occurred properly during a “right on red.” We can argue that the totality of the circumstances demonstrate that the driving did not rise to the level of a traffic infraction and that the citation should be dismissed.
If you have received a “Notice of Red Light Violation,” or a Uniform Traffic Citation for “Failure to Stop at a Red Light,” our office can help. Call us for a free consultation regarding your options.