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What Should You Know About The Legality Of Traffic Camera Tickets?

If you've ever received a ticket in the mail for running a red light, making an illegal U-turn, or allegedly violating another traffic law, you may be wondering about the fairness of these types of automatically-issued infraction notices. "Red light cameras," as they're often called, electronically monitor busy intersections and record the license plates of any vehicle observed to have broken a traffic rule.

A citation is then sent to the owner of the record, even without any evidence that he or she was driving the vehicle. Read on to learn more about how some courts have outlawed these cameras as unconstitutional and what you may be able to offer in your own defense if issued a ticket from a red light camera.

Why do some cities claim these cameras are unconstitutional?

The U.S. and state constitutions apply even to the most minor of traffic charges, and one important constitutional provision is the right of an accused to confront his or her accuser. But when it comes to red light camera violations, there is no human "accuser" to confront; instead, vehicle owners who have been issued citations must challenge the observation and judgment of an inanimate object. This has been enough for some jurisdictions to pass laws regulating the use of these cameras or requiring that all citations first be reviewed and approved by a police officer before they may be issued.

Other jurisdictions have restricted the use of red light cameras as an invasion of privacy after citizens have argued that their use of a certain road or intersection doesn't give the government carte blanche to monitor them electronically. However, some federal appellate courts have rejected invasion-of-privacy arguments on appeal.

What are some potential defenses to a red light camera ticket? 

If you've been issued a red light camera ticket and would like to contest it in court, there are a few options. 

First, you can challenge the camera's functionality and accuracy. If the picture the camera produced wasn't clear enough, it might have misread a license plate number or misidentified your vehicle entirely, letting you off the hook. A sympathetic judge may also be swayed by a police department's inability to answer basic questions about when the camera was last serviced or calibrated or how often it is tested for reliability.

In cities with busy police departments, you may also be able to have your ticket dismissed if no one from the police department shows up to the court date. Without someone to confirm the accuracy of the ticket you've been issued, as required by law, many judges will choose to dismiss the ticket entirely rather than reschedule another court date.