Whether red light cameras are constitutional continues to be a subject of debate and contradictory rulings. A three judge appellate panel of circuit court judges in Pasco County recently ruled the cameras were unconstitutional only to withdraw their opinion because the Florida Attorney General was not given notice of the appeal. Contrary to the opinion of the circuit court judges, Pasco County circuit judge Marc Salton ruled July 16, 2013 that the cameras were constitutional.
In the consolidated cases, drivers contended that the statute violates due process protections under the Constitution primarily the cameras do not capture the identity of the driver but imposes the violation against the vehicle owner. The defendants argued that the statute shifts the burden of proof from the State to the defendant. The defendants also argued that the statute changed the burden of proof to something other than that of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The defendants also argued that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Judge Salton rejected those arguments finding the law Constitutional.
Broward County Judge Fred Berman reached a different conclusion finding the law unconstitutional because the law violated due process protections. The judge “was troubled by the disparate treatment of those charged with running a red light after being observed by a police officer versus being captured by a red light camera. In cases where a police officer observes the driver, the officer is subject to cross examination at trial and the presumption of innocence exists. Traditional rules of evidence apply.
On the other hand, the thirty day lapse of time during which the notice of violation is sent can severely affect one’s ability to prepare an adequate defense. Furthermore, the law presumes the owner to be the driver simply because his or her name is the first name to appear on the vehicle’s registration.
The judge found that the law impermissibly shifts the burden of proof upon the owner of the vehicle to prove that he or she was not the driver.