Recently, Nathan Cox, a U.S. Army Veteran successfully argued against a photo enforced ticket. What was his winning method? Instead of taking a plea deal or paying the ticket so he could argue it in court, Cox wrote a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles, located in the state in which the ticket was issued. Cox understood it was and is the burden of the state to provide evidence to prove he was the one driving the vehicle. Upon receiving two photographs of only his vehicle and license plate, Cox proceeded to request for “the charges simply be dropped” as there was no evidence to tie him to the crime.
Cox continued by citing the confrontation clause in the sixth amendment of the Constitution, which reads “In all criminal prosecution, the accused shall enjoy the right… to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Cox’s only witness was the red light camera that landed him in the predicament, and he was not granted the right to confront the camera. Cox furthered his argument by pleading the fifth in having to identify who the driver really was and firmly stated he believed the government would not be able to prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Cox concluded the letter, requesting any other evidence the prosecution may use against him, in case the government wanted to proceed with the charges.
Cox mailed his letter and waited to hear the response. The first response he received was a reply that they were in receipt of his letter which the hearing examiner would review. Six months later, Cox received another letter which dismissed his ticket. Cox encourages others to fight the red light tickets, to avoid self-incrimination and to remind everyone the government is responsible in providing the evidence to prove you were the driver.
Although it is quite effective, Cox’s method does not guarantee a win in every case. If a letter is sent in the same manner as Cox, do not assume the ticket will be automatically dismissed. Follow up on the letter to make sure it was received and reviewed. Take the time you have before a decision is issued to see if you can further investigate the situation.
The following are defense tactics and arguments you could make to the judge if they were to proceed with the hearing or if you have already paid and responded to the letter, but would still like to prove your innocence.
1. Object to the Photo’s Clarity:
Red light cameras may not always capture the clearest photo of a car’s license plate or the driver of the car. You can easily beat the ticket if you can prove the vehicle in the photograph is not yours, you were not the driver in the picture or even show that the light was not red. Study the photographs or video provided and see if you really did run the red light or if the images fail to provide enough clarity to find you guilty. However, only testify if you are certain to what you are trying to prove.
2. Non-visible or Missing “Photo Enforced” Signs?:
In some jurisdictions, it is mandatory to have signs posted to warn drivers the light they are about to pass is “Photo Enforced.” However just like stop signs, the Photo Enforced signs can easily be covered up by growing trees, or even missing from the area. Carefully read the law in your area and make sure the jurisdiction the red light is located in requires such signs to be posted and the guidelines for which they are to be placed. Visit the light in question and determine if the sign posted complies with guidelines. Draw diagrams or take photographs of any legal discrepancies and have them ready to present to the judge.
3. Argue the “Necessity” Defense:
Red light cameras capture just a couple snapshots, one of the vehicle entering the intersection and one of the license plate as the vehicle passes through, or records a few seconds of the “occurrence.” However, red light cameras do not capture the vehicle tailing you down the road and you trying to avoid getting into an accident by braking hard to stop at the red light. Arguing that it was out of necessity for you to run the red light to deter any harm to pedestrians or steer clear of a major accident, could be a possible reason for the judge to find you not guilty. Make sure you write down exactly what happened. Not only will this help you remember the incident in great detail, but it will also help you present it to the judge.
4. Red Lights v. The Constitution:
Just as Cox cited the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause and the Fifth Amendment’s Self-Incrimination Clause, such protections are only afforded in criminal charges. Review the ordinance and see if the traffic violation is a civil or a criminal charge. Many states sidestepped the issue by labeling the red light tickets as civil infractions. Regardless, if the state has labeled them as civil infractions, you are still allowed to subpoena the person who reviewed the pictures or the person who installed the cameras to make sure they were functioning correctly.
Red light cameras have been criticized for serving no other purpose except generating revenue. Fines resulting from photo enforced red light tickets run between $75 and $300. Fines are divided between the private contractor, city, county and state. Drivers should not hesitate to fight back when issued a red light ticket from a photo enforced light. Cox’s strategy in defending himself from the ticket proved victorious. If you are faced with a red light ticket, take initiative and demand the government provide the necessary evidence to prove you were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.