Stopping on Red Light Camera Tickets: Fight or Pay the Fine

Posted October 4, 2011 in Criminal Law by Heather McGowan

There’s a good chance one of those dreaded automated tickets could show up in your mailbox, now that they’re in use in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, plus many smaller communities.

Opinions are split on whether these systems improve safety at dangerous intersections, cause more accidents or just generate more revenue for strapped local governments.

 
  • Don’t pay that red light camera ticket right away
  • Defenses against camera system tickets can work
  • Follow traffic laws as officers and camera systems are writing more tickets than ever

 

Policy and controversy aside, what does it mean when a ticket shows up in your mailbox? Sure, it might look like junk mail from an out-of-state address. Open it up, and you’re looking at a traffic citation and possibly a not-so-modest fine. Many vehicle owners just get out the checkbook and pay up.

Is Fighting a Ticket an Option?

Before you start making out that check, take a moment to think about the consequences. Is a defense against your ticket even an option? Christian Straile, a Gainesville, Florida criminal defense attorney, provided insight on defending against automated tickets, and why paying those fines without a second thought could be a bad idea.

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Feeling annoyed, or even a bit steamed over your ticket is certainly a natural response. Likely questions running through any driver’s mind are:

  • Is it my car in the image?
  • Was I the driver caught by the camera?
  • Is the image clear?
  • Was the camera accurate?
  • Is it possible the car in front of me triggered the ticket?
  • Is there a mismatch with my license plate and the car, say from stolen plates?

"Most people don’t realize there are defense options, and why fighting a ticket is of value to you," says Straile. While you’re not happy about paying the fine, it’s less cost and hassle than trying to do something about it, right? Wrong. Straile answers, "Long-term costs can make fighting a ticket make sense when weighing a fine against the cost of a lawyer."

Straile explained the consequences of the tickets on your driver’s license are real. Expect to see your insurance premiums go up (some drivers even lose their policies), and the points on your license can lead to suspension.

Behind Your Defense

Attorneys in Florida are helping drivers challenge their traffic tickets. Among the arguments developing against camera system tickets are that drivers’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process are violated.

Straile explained some of the legal concepts to knock out a camera-generated ticket: "The tickets are for civil offenses, but the State still has to prove your offense beyond reasonable doubt." Basically, challenging a camera system ticket makes you prove you didn’t run a red light. "It really goes beyond burden shifting," says Straile, continuing, "The potential for abuse is tremendous. It’s hard to prove a negative." Even so, lawyers are gaining with successful challenges to camera system tickets.

Another problem issue Straile highlights is that unlike other offenses, with a camera system ticket, if you opt to defend against it, the potential fine goes up. Because the offense is treated differently, depending on your response, it’s an issue.

How far do you go in fighting a ticket? Straile answers, "If you lose and want to appeal, it’s impractical, cost makes it prohibitive, and it’s a matter of principle."

Taking a Different Angle on Traffic Law Enforcement and Avoiding Tickets

Before you hit the road again, think about the basic difference between enforcing traffic laws with camera systems versus police officers. The two systems just work differently. Straile uses the example of drivers slowing down the minute they see a police car in traffic. A camera system doesn’t have the same deterrent effect. Some argue accidents actually go up when drivers slam on the brakes at photo-enforced traffic lights.

So what’s a driver to do? Straile says, "Follow every traffic law, and you can avoid most traffic citations." But do drive carefully – Straile adds officers are writing more tickets, and more places are using those camera systems, even though they have been around for decades. Will your check be in the mail?

Heather McGowan co-authors the Lawyers.com blog

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