Municipalities all across the nation have installed traffic cameras that issue citations to folks who run red lights or, in some instances citations for excessive speed. Traffic citations are issued under the flawed logic that a police officer reviews each photograph which somehow satisfies the law’s demand for a competent witness.
I want you to think for a moment about how important witnesses are in the American justice system. If you went to court for a traffic ticket issued by a police officer the officer would have to satisfy the demands of a system which presumes innocence rather than guilt until such time as evidence gathered in the court room is presented and a verdict is reached either by a judge or jury.
Sometime during the trial there would be an opportunity to ask the officer questions which determine his/her vantage point. “Officer, at the time of the alleged incident, where were you positioned?” The answer to this question ascertains whether he/she was able to see the color of the light prior to any vehicle entering the intersection and sets the stage for validating the light system was operating properly, that no extenuating circumstances were in play at the time of the incident and also includes an opportunity to establish the officer’s experience regarding traffic violations.
In the case of traffic camera issued citations the officer’s answer would have to be, “I was across town sitting at a desk and never observed the alleged violation. I did; however, get to look at a snapshot taken the night before by a camera which I’m told is accurate and never makes mistakes. The photograph clearly showed a vehicle, its license plate issued to the defendant, entered the intersection after the light changed red.”
“Officer; can you tell me who was driving the vehicle, what traffic conditions were or anything the driver may have said immediately after the alleged violation?”
“As I stated a moment ago, I wasn’t actually present at the time of the alleged violation. The photograph only showed what kind of vehicle entered the intersection a moment after the light changed along with a clear image of that vehicle’s license plate. The camera system isn’t capable of recording the information you asked for.”
“Thank you for your honesty, Officer. No further questions.”
For lack of evidence the ticket would have to be dismissed because our system is based on the assumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. To prove anyone guilty there has to be a competent witness to offer testimony. Mechanical devices, regardless of how efficiently they operate are incapable of being witnesses and yet; and this is the heart of the case against the use of traffic camera citations, part of the so called validation for use of mechanical devices is that each and every photograph is reviewed by a certified police officer. Can you say “male bovine excrement”?
Next Tuesday folks in Houston are supposed to vote on Proposition 3, a chance to approve the use of Red Light Traffic Ticket Cameras which are already in use. I’ve heard radio spots paid for by a group in favor of this measure with support from doctors, police officers and firefighters all claiming that such enforcement techniques save lives.
I’m a retired Houston Police officer and consider folks who run red lights to be some of the most dangerous drivers on the road. Writing a traffic ticket for running a red light was very satisfying; however, I knew the case had to be adjudicated properly and my testimony would be required in court. I kept good notes and was able to answer all the questions raised above; justice was properly served by following accepted basic principles.
Here’s a more important consideration; under our constitutional form of government, can an individual’s right to a fair trial be voted away by popular vote? If you answer anything but an emphatic “NO!” then our country is in more trouble than you are aware. If we’d sell our souls for the price of a red light camera fine, what else would we toss in the toilet?
I rest my case.
Photograph is courtesy of The Texas Highwayman .
This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal , a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.