Photo enforcement ticket defenses


In Washington state, photo enforcement tickets do not go on a person’s driving record. Because of this fact and the amount of the fine involved it generally makes very little sense for a person to hire a lawyer for a photo enforcement ticket.

It also makes no sense, if photo enforcement cameras are reliable and a sworn statement from the registered owner of a vehicle that they were not driving the vehicle in issue at the time of the alleged offense is a perfect defense to the charge that photo enforcement tickets are treated differently than tickets generated through traffic stops. Other jurisdictions throughout the country do not distinguish between tickets generated by cameras and tickets generated by traffic cops-and as a consequence the lawyers  often hired to contest these tickets  often exposed problems with photo enforcement tickets.

The federal government can withhold highway improvement funds for the “masking” of infractions committed by someone with a commercial drivers license (CDL). Although “masking” is undefined in federal law, a person with a CDL cannot receive a deferred finding which results in a dismissal since this would be a form of masking. For all practical purposes, a person with a CDL that commits a photo enforcement infraction has that offense masked since the offense does not appear on the person’s driving record. The reason the federal government distinguishes commercial drivers from other drivers is because a person driving a semi-truck can cause substantially more damage than a person driving a standard automobile. I believe the legislature has jeopardized federal highway funds by keeping photo enforcement tickets off commercial drivers driving records.

post2aIn Spokane, the court prohibited officers from using electronic signatures in issuing photo enforcement tickets and dismissed cases when such electronic signatures were used.

In Los Angeles, courts found that an officer could not lay a foundation for when a photo enforcement infraction occurred since that was determined by the machine that was maintained and operated by a private agency and not the police.

Although not a defense, RCW 46.63.170 states that the amount of the fine:

shall not exceed the amount of a fine issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction.

IRLJ 6.2 sets the maximum fine for Illegal Parking on a Roadway at $30 while many jurisdictions have maximum fines of $20 for certain parking infractions–which supports the argument that the fine shall be no more than $30 although customarily most red light photo enforcement infractions in Washington are $124.

post2bWhen I was a judge, the biggest complaint about photo enforcement tickets came from those motorists that turned right at a red light without coming to a complete stop before making the right turn (aka the California stop). The evidence to date certainly supports the argument that the presence of red light traffic cameras do promote drivers not to drive straight through intersections when a traffic light is red–and that this has resulted in a drop in serious intersection collisions. I have not seen nor heard of any study, however, that shows that California right turns cause more accidents than they prevent so instead of eliminating photo enforcement tickets the law should be modified.

As you can see, there have been a lot of pros and cons against the camera system that detects infractions. We must concur that the maximum fine or at least the common decisions should be no more than 30$. The best thing that we can do is to make sure that the cost for infractions is not high as it is in Washington and we also need to make sure that people understand the importance of these cameras. Those who usually complain about the safety cameras are those who cause infractions the most. So you can clearly see the connection between those arguments that are against those cameras. We have to understand that those cameras are there for a reason. They are set on different locations in order to control and monitor people that cause infractions. Accidents can be prevented only if we want to prevent them. Even if someone has a lot of money, the penalty for an infraction won’t do any good because that person can pay. The only thing that you can do is to take away a license or make sure that they don’t make the same mistake twice with a different punishment. But that is another story.

About the author

Jacquelyn Smith