January 4, 2007

Davenport's traffic cams ruled illegal

In the most recent legal wrangling over Davenport's controversial use of cameras mounted at intersections to catch people violating traffic laws, a judge has found that the method doesn't fit within established law.

In a rather bizarre decision, Davenport has announced that it will continue to run the cameras, but will not issue any citations.

From the Dispatch/Argus:
City administrator Craig Malin said Davenport plans to take Scott County District Court Judge Gary McKenrick's ruling under consideration.

He said there are other options besides resolving the issue through the court system. An appeals process could take months. If other plaintiffs join the lawsuit that sparked Judge McKenrick's ruling and a court certifies a class action, resolution could be much longer. Another option is to wait until the legislature changes the state law.

Judge McKenrick found Davenport's city ordinance involving red-light and speed cameras "in conflict with, contrary to and inconsistent" with certain provisions of state law.
"It's a possibility the ordinance could be amended to address those issues" Mr. Malin said. "The city council could make some modifications to the ordinance to address the district judge's concerns".
According to a media release, since the start of camera use in August 2004, there have been more than 10,000 red-light and 20,000 speed tickets issued. The city had planned to budget about $590,000 in speed and red-light fine revenue to offset or reinvest in public safety costs.
Judge Gary McKenrick ruling came out of a lawsuit filed by Monique D. Rhoden, who received a speeding ticket after a camera photographed her vehicle going 11 mph over the speed limit on Kimberly Road. She paid the $45 fine, and then sued the city.

According to her lawsuit, the ticket noted "payment of the penalty amount for the violation will not go on your driving record nor be used to increase your insurance rates."

Judge McKenrick said that language, indicating the ticket would not be reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation, or other departments, for the purpose of being added to the vehicle's owner's driving records, violated state law.

State law requires that within 10 days of a conviction in a traffic case, the clerk of court must forward to IDOT an abstract of the case record. Courts view paying a fine as a conviction.

The judge also found that Davenport's fine structure is "markedly different than the fine structure provided for violations of the state statutes regulating speeding and obedience to traffic signals."

He also determined that state law does not provide for a specific exception for Davenport's ordinance.
A previous lawsuit was lost by a plaintiff who claimed the system was illegal. That case will be reviewed by the Iowa Supreme Court.

While officials cite public safety as their motivation, it's clear that they are far more interested in the huge amounts of revenue this system generates without a single officer having to move a finger.

As a matter of fact, the recent ruling found the law illegal because traffic charges due to these cameras were not reported to the state, and the charges did not go against the driver's record and were not reported to their insurance companies. This goes against state law which dictates that an abstract of the case be forwarded to the state.

This makes it clear that it's not safety as much as cold hard cash that was the object.

It also suggests that it's only a matter of time before the state amends it's statutes to comport with the use of these revenue "enhancers".

This matter poses many questions about just how intrusive we want our government to be, and issues about the use of increasingly sophisticated technology to surveil and police society. These are issues which all people will have to confront and make decisions about in the near future.

Just how far should this sort of thing go?

What do you think?


At 1/05/2007 12:32 PM, Anonymous Dr Who said...

A good friend from Canada reports that they've already seen the same thing happen in Canada.

Local governments kept installing the cameras, and local courts throw out the tickets upon challenge.

Let's hope the Canadian experience hold true here, and we'll soon be rid of "big brother"!


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