Red light cameras in California: are pictures admissible evidence?

Carmen Goldsmith was driving through a Los Angeles suburb when she ran a red light and instantly became one of countless people nationwide ticketed by a red light camera. The California woman challenged her citation in a trial court, where she was found guilty and fined $436. She appealed and lost.

Goldsmith’s case, The People of California v. Goldsmith, was recently heard before the California Supreme Court in Los Angeles. The court’s verdict likely will put to rest the admissibility of red light camera evidence in the country’s most populous state, where red light violations are by far the highest (compared to red light tickets in the $100 range in the rest of the country.)

The California Supreme Court is hearing the case in an attempt to answer three basic questions:

What testimony, if any, regarding the accuracy and reliability of the automated traffic enforcement system (ATES) is required as a prerequisite to admission of the ATES-generated evidence?

Is the ATES evidence hearsay? If so, do any exceptions apply?

The question of hearsay is an important one: American law does not recognize secondary witnesses—people who say that someone else told them something—to establish factual evidence. Goldsmith’s attorneys argue that the evidence against her was hearsay. Goldsmith’s constitutional right to confrontation was violated because the Redflex technician in charge of preparing the evidence package did not even bother to show up at Goldsmith’s trial. Neither did the police department employee that allegedly operated the red light cameras system. As a result, the investigator sent by the prosecution to trial as the sole witness was a secondary surrogate witness that testified in lieu of the primary surrogate witness (i.e., the police department employee that allegedly operated the system). Consequently, Goldsmith’s conviction cannot be upheld based on such “double surrogacy.”

A ruling in Goldsmith’s case is expected within 90 days.

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