Tickets issued due to red-light cameras are illegal, says Florida court

An appeals court decides that in Florida, private companies that operate red-light cameras have no right to send out tickets.

Will the police department in Hollywood, Fla., now reissue thousands of tickets? StopOnRedFlorida/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When we reach nerdvana, even the law will be automated.

A human court, however, has decided that a current form of automated law enforcement is actually unenforceable, at least in Florida.

I am grateful to the open-eyed bloodhounds at Watchdog for spotting a Florida appeals court ruling.

The judges mulled the fact that private owners of red-light cameras were the ones who sent out tickets. The judges concluded: "Hang on, that's not legal."

Clearly, those weren't the literal words used in the judgment (PDF). The Fourth District Court of Appeals phrased it like this: "The City is not authorized to delegate police power by entering into a contract that allows a private vendor to screen data and decide whether a violation has occurred before sending that data to a traffic infraction enforcement officer to use as the basis for authorizing a citation."

The city in question is Hollywood, Fla. The court went further and said: "Dismissal of the citation is the appropriate remedy where a private third party effectively decides whether a traffic violation has occurred and a citation should be issued."

This particular case involved American Traffic Solutions. It bills itself as "the leading provider of traffic safety, mobility and compliance solutions for state and local governments, commercial fleets and rental car companies."

It also boasts "over 3,000 Road Safety Camera systems installed and operating throughout the United States and Canada."

The company subpoenaed Eric Arem in 2011. He fought and lost, but won on appeal.

I have contacted the city of Hollywood to ask whether it will fight the ruling or whether it will have all the tickets reissued by the police department. There is also the option, presumably, of refunding money illegally obtained.

At the heart of the use of cameras -- whether at red lights or on highways -- is the suspicion that they're mere moneymakers. Last year, an Ohio judge described speed cameras as " nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty."

Earlier this year, residents of Tamarac, Fla., were incensed that a red-light camera had been mounted near the emergency room of a hospital.

Then there was the Baltimore case of a man who received a camera ticket that claimed he was speeding. It was sent with an image of his car completely stationary at a red light.

Authorities and private camera companies (see video above) say cameras improve safety. The National Motorists Association says they actually increase the number of accidents.

Of course, if this is all about money, the city of Hollywood may merely consider whether there's a cheap way to get tickets sent by its police department. If there is, perhaps nothing will change.

Who would be surprised, though, if the cost of actually having a member of law enforcement examine every ticket before it's sent means red-light cameras slink out of town?

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