Red Light Camera Ticket Thrown Out When Records Improper

Our office receives many calls from clients who receive tickets for running red lights when the basis is a photograph from a camera at the intersection.  Usually, the fine is pretty steep, approaching $500, not to mention the traffic school fees that follow.  The photograph of our client going through the intersection is surprisingly and usually pretty clear.  However, our clients are always unnerved by the fact that a camera and a photograph, not a live police officer and testimony, is the basis for the ticket.
Overview:  Ticket Thrown Out for Running Red Light Based on Red Light Camera Maintenance Records Lacking Foundation.
On February 10, 2012, the Second Appellate District issued an opinion (People v. Annette Borzakian (2012 DJDAR 1923)) on “red  light cameras,” wherein the violation based on such a photograph was reversed.  The basis for the opinion deserves a closer look, as it certainly seems to suggest other similar tickets can be thrown out on the same basis (the City of Los Angeles, however, has retired its red-light camera program recently).

Annett Borzakian was driving through the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills on June 3, 2009.  A few days later she received a ticket in the mail, wherein it was determined that she violated Vehicle Code § 21453(a) (commonly known as “Failure to Stop at a Red Light”) based on photographic evidence.

At trial on January 21, 2010, before Commissioner Carol J. Hallowitz in the Beverly Hills Superior Court, Officer Mike Butkus of the Beverly Hills Police Department testified that Redflex Traffic Systems, a non-governmental entity, is in charge of maintaining and servicing the equipment used for photo enforcement.  Butkus had no personal knowledge about the maintenance, inspections or calibration of the camera.  Borzakian was nevertheless convicted of violating Vehicle Code § 21453(a).

Borzakian then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court, but the Appellate Division affirmed the Beverly Hills Court.  

Borzakian then appealed to the Second Appellate District, arguing under a U.S. Supreme Court case familiar to most defense attorneys – Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009) 129 S.Ct. 2527 - that the prosecution evidence concerning the reliability and accuracy of the camera lacked foundation and was hearsay.  Borzakian argued that the photographic evidence, calibration records and “monthly preventative maintenance (PM) inspection” records against her were therefore, improperly admitted because Butkus had no qualifications or knowledge to establish that the photographs, calibration records or maintenance records were reliable, and consequently, could be trusted.

The Second Appellate District agreed with Borzakian.  The Court also allowed their opinion to be published, which is a first.  Previously, the Orange County Superior Court’s appellate panel upheld a similar argument (People v. Khaled, 30-2009-304893) in 2010, but did not allow its opinion to be published.  

The opinion in Borzakian may prove helpful in stopping the abuse of unsophisticated drivers by issuing expensive tickets based on intersection cameras.  Red light violations are not the only common ticket, as many motorists receive unsafe turn tickets, too.  Many motorists have complained for years that cities have been able to rake in enormous traffic fines using such cameras and inadmissible evidence, resulting in a true denial of due process.  

For more information about being in court, click on the following articles:
  1. What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and an Infraction?
  2. What Is an Arraignment?
  3. Expungement of an Infraction?
For a sampling of our traffic offense results, click here.

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