Court Finds Red Light Cameras Unconstitutional, Must Refund All Tickets


The Ohio Supreme Court found red light camera fines “Unconstitutional” this past week. It forces the city to refund all tickets.

It began with speeding tickets in New Miami.

The Free Thought Project won a six-year-long case that began in New Miami, Ohio. The unanimous three-judge panel found it unconstitutional over the manner in which it is done.

As Tech Dirt reports, “the lower court had problems with the lack of options made available to ticket recipients to challenge speeding tickets. It also had problems with New Miami’s cozy relationship with the speed camera company, which provided free cameras in exchange for a percentage of collected fines. This fostered an unhealthy relationship between the two, leading to the town becoming most famous for being a speed trap, Free Thought Project wrote.

At least 500 communities employ them and many are considering using them or expanding their use. Seven states are trying to ban red light cameras, complaining they are ripe with abuse.

Red light cameras are keeping some towns afloat by robbing people. Many believe they are unconstitutional. While it’s not unconstitutional to enforce the law, it might be to have non-law enforcement do it.

In these cases, a private company is being incentivized to give more and more tickets. In Arizona, one of the companies is Australian and they gather all this data on Americans. What happens to that personal information?

The way these camera work is if someone blows a red light, the camera snaps a photo of the car and driver and a citation is sent in the mail.

“I think everyone in the country should be concerned about this type of law enforcement action, especially when it’s so ripe with corruption,” said Arizona State Rep. Travis Grantham.


What Grantham has a problem with is that law enforcement contracts the camera programs out to third-party companies, with some companies even issuing the tickets. He’s also concerned about third-party companies having access to the cameras and data.

In Arizona in 2016, one vendor was sentenced to prison for bribery and fraud. Many complain the procss is rife with fraud.

Some say they save lives but there are cases of these cameras causing unsafe conditions with cars stopping short at lights and getting hit from behind.

To date, six courts have found they are not unconstitutional.

“The way photo radar works, it really does not afford the person receiving the ticket the right to due process,” Grantham said. “That’s a huge problem.”

Paul Bender, a professor of law at Arizona State says there is a constitutional question in having non-law enforcement personnel issue tickets. Bender said the “government should not contract out things that it has the responsibility for.” But, he added, that can easily be resolved by having a police officer involved. However, at least one case being heard is contesting not having the company technician present as well.

Studies considering the safety issue support both sides of the debate.

Mr. Grantham has a real problem with third-party companies holding the data.

“We start infringing on people’s constitutional rights and we start privatizing law enforcement to the point where you could be issued a fine,” he said, “you could potentially have your driving privileges revoked when a private corporation, who’s really going unchecked by many law enforcement in many instances, is able to just issue these tickets, [program the equipment that has used these tickets, harvest your data, distribute your data for whatever purposes they see necessary, it’s very problematic.”

Lawmakers like Mr. Grantham are introducing bills to ban them.


Ohio’s Clever Red Light Bill

In Ohio, a state legislative committee advanced a bill that would reduce state funding to cities by the amount they collect from red-light and traffic camera tickets.

In addition to reducing state funding, the measure changes how disputes over traffic violations are decided. Currently, disputes are sent to administrative hearing officers. HB 410 would send them to a municipal court in front of a judge, which would cost cities more in court fees and attorneys that would have to represent cities in the cases.

The Ohio Municipal League opposes the bill, arguing it violates the state constitutional concept of “home rule.”

This action comes after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional portions of a 2015 law in which the legislature required a cop to be present at all intersections with cameras, prohibited fines to drivers caught speeding unless they exceeded the limit by 6 mph or more in a school or park zone or by 10 mph in other areas and making cities study safety and conduct public information campaigns before using cameras. That is the case cited at the beginning of the article.

Florida’s Fight

The Florida Supreme Court in Miami is considering the question. It also centers on the way the city does it. It’s not the city, but rather the private company that makes the decision. The city says it doesn’t matter because it’s only a clerical task.

California Has an Interesting Case

In one case in California, a man is challenging his fines based upon the Confrontation Clause of the Constitution. The Confrontation Clause states that a person accused has the right to confront witnesses against him in a court of law.

In other words, there is no human witness to confront you in court, but a police officer who did not witness the action steps in on behalf of a high tech camera system that captured the evidence – is this unconstitutional?

Photos can be altered but no one gets to confront the technician.

There are legal implications of not being able to confront one’s accuser. For example, an entire case against a person on an automated report produced by technology and then read by a person without any direct knowledge of the subject matter of the case. It could be precedent-setting and create a slippery slope for future cases based on automated policing.

What do you think?

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6 years ago

I think the good people of suffolk county need to address this issue here and see how the judge’s will decide the outcome. Seems the fees that Bellone has collected may be Unconstitutional as well…

Judyann Joyner
Judyann Joyner
6 years ago

Same as I think about cities and states trying to support their excessive, reckless, wasteful spending habits and decades of mattress stuffing corruption by legalizing marijuana.