The rules on Red Light Camera Tickets in LA are changing every day. Do you have to pay them? Can you ignore a red light camera ticket? Are they legal? Illegal? What if I got mine in Van Nuys Traffic Court? How about the Beverly Hills Courthouse? Is that part of the LA court system? Does West Covina Traffic Court count? What about the Inland Empire? What do they do in Orange County traffic courts? I don’t want to pay my red light camera tickets if I don’t have to, but I don’t want a warrant, a suspended license, or problems with my credit report….. help! There is a constant supply of false information floating around out there about red light camera tickets and people are continuing to make bad decisions based on the confusion. Here’s a summary of the recent developments and some guidelines in plain English to help you decide what to do with those red light camera tickets buried on your desk under all the other bills you can’t afford to pay.
The law on running a red light in California
You can’t run a red light in LA. In fact, you can’t run a red light anywhere in California. It’s illegal under California Vehicle Code 21453(a) to do so and if you get caught you get a traffic ticket. Just like any traffic infraction in California you have three choices on what to do with it. You can pay it, post bail and file a trial by declaration, or fight it in court. If you pay it, or fight it and lose, you will be fined about $500 and you will receive a point on your driving record because this violation is a deemed a “moving violation”. At $500, the fine hurts, but the point on your driving can end up being even worse once your insurance company or employer finds out. Get too many points, and the California DMV will designate you as a negligent operator and suspend your license. If you failed to appear on the ticket originally, it may now be with GC Services, a collection agency, and they may be asking you for $800 or more. I have had some clients in Beverly Hills receive a bill for over $1300 on red light camera tickets! It also common for people to have multiple unpaid red light camera tickets with a combined bill that can run thousands of dollars.
Red Light Camera Tickets in California
Red Light Camera Tickets didn’t change the law, they just changed how the law was enforced. Instead of getting a traffic ticket from an officer who witnessed you running the light, you get a ticket in the mail from an automated system. As much as people hate getting pulled over by a traffic cop, it doesn’t even come close to the anger generated by red light camera tickets. People truly hate red light camera tickets. There are stories posted everyday about people vandalizing the cameras in order to render them inoperative. People post the locations of the cameras that issue red light camera tickets on twitter, facebook, or other social networking sites to help others avoid receiving a ticket. People have filed class action law suits against the cities that issue and prosecute them, as well as against the companies who install and maintain the cameras that issue red light camera tickets. People go to court and scream at the clerks in traffic court so often that many traffic courts now have clerks behind bullet proof glass. People show up in court and vent on the judge, the bailiff, or the laptop cop who is there to try to prove up red light camera tickets at trial. I’m a Los Angeles Traffic Ticket Attorney, and people call me all the time with questions about red light camera tickets. I give a free consult and try to explain the situation and their options, including how to fight red light camera tickets yourself for free and how to avoid getting ripped off by online services and the collections agencies, but at least once a day, someone will cuss me out and hang up on me. No matter how you slice it, people just hate red light camera tickets.
Basic Legal Challenges to Red Light Camera Tickets
If you decide to fight your red light camera tickets in any court in California (or in a trial be declaration), you have several potential arguments to present at trial. Here are the most common and most effective defenses to red light camera tickets
IDENTITY-If the photo or video does not clearly show that you were the person driving the car at the time of the violation, you should win your case every time. Some red light camera tickets are so clear that the clerk will dismiss them at the window, others require an arraignment, and other times the court will require you to go through the full process of trial before granting the dismissal. Remember, that you have NO DUTY to inform the court staff, the cops, or the judge who was actually driving the car. If you are faced with this question you should invoke your right to remain silent or simply respond with “not me”. It’s not your job to prove who else was driving the car. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that YOU were driving the car, and if they can’t do that, the case will get dismissed. ”Snitch tickets” are psuedo citations sent in the mail to the registered owner of a vehicle that clearly does not match the identity of the driver in the photo (for example a gender mismatch). These “tickets” do not give a date for an appearance but do request fine payment or in the alternative they can returned with information regarding the identity of the true driver. File a snitch ticket in your garbage can where it belongs.
HEARSAY-In a courtroom the general rule is that the person testifying against you must have personal knowledge of the facts and give live testimony in court. So if a cop saw you run the light, she testifies to what she saw and you will usually be found guilty by the judge. With red light camera tickets, the witness in court is NOT the person who saw you commit the violation. So it is always a good idea to object that the person testifying does not have personal knowledge of the facts and that the evidence being presented is “hearsay” or based on “hearsay evidence” such as a review of the photo or video.
FOUNDATION-If you take your case to trial, the prosecution will have to introduce evidence against you. They will attempt to admit the video or photo into evidence and you should object that there is a lack of “foundation” to establish that the video or photo accurately depicts what happened on the day of the alleged violation. For red light camera tickets this is usually done by the “laptop cop”. The laptop cop shows up in court on trial day and shows everyone their photo or video in an effort to get them to plead guilty to their red light camera tickets before trial and pay their fines. If you don’t surrender and you demand your trial, the laptop cop will try to present the evidence at trial. A proper objection based on lack of foundation will often be sustained. Some jurisdictions will go so far as to bring in a prosecutor (usually the city attorney) as well as employees of the company that installed and maintains the camera system to get around this objection and prove up the ticket. Other jurisdictions will allow the laptop cop to “lay a foundation” by reading a statement off a sheet of paper that was prepared by a lawyer to help avoid this issue.
CONFRONTATION CLAUSE-You have a constitutional right to confront and cross-examine any witness against you in court. With red light camera tickets, this can obviously trigger some issues. So be sure to object on confrontation clause grounds in addition to the grounds stated above.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST-This argument is based on the financial agreements between the cities who profit from the red light camera tickets and the companies who install and maintain them. In the past it was revealed that many of the contracts included incentives for the company who installed and maintained the system that were based on the amount of fines collected. The contracts for red light camera tickets were ditched or overhauled in many cities in Southern California when this was exposed by some of California’s more skilled traffic lawyers a few years ago.
SHORT YELLOW-This is a technical defense based on the amount of time it takes for the light to cycle from yellow to red. Not surprisingly studies have shown that many intersections with red light camera tickets have a cycle that is too fast in order to maximize profits. The trick with this defense is that you need to show that the cycle was too short at the time the violation occurred. And you usually don’t even know you were alleged to have broken the law until days, weeks, or months later when the ticket shows up in the mail. Don’t be intimidated by the laptop cop when fighting red light camera tickets. Ask to review the video and check the timing of the yellow phase.
NOTICE-This defense is based on your right to be informed of the charges brought against you in a timely fashion. Because there is no live officer issuing a citation, many people do not receive notice of violation on red light camera tickets for months or even years after the incident is alleged to have occurred. This can also be a defense to any allegation that you failed to appear on the date included in the initial notice to appear.
Strategically Ignoring Your Red Light Camera Tickets in Los Angeles
All of the strategies discussed above involve going to trial and fighting your ticket. But this is LA and that sounds like a lot of work. LA is always on the cutting edge so we invented a whole different kind of defense to red light camera tickets. Ignoring them! This strategy is based on the lack of negative consequences associated with ignoring red light camera tickets. To understand this method let’s compare red light camera tickets to regular tickets.
If you get a regular ticket and ignore it, bad things happen. The reason for this is that when you sign a ticket, you are promising to appear on or before a certain date. If you don’t follow through, you can get hit with a misdemeanor failure to appear charge under VC 40508(a). The court can also issue a warrant for your arrest. In addition, the court can place a hold on your license pursuant to VC 40509.5, and add a fine of $300 as a civil assessment pursuant to PC 1214.1. The court can also deem your failure to appear as a request or a trial by declaration and find you guilty in your absence. Ouch! All of these are very bad things so don’t ever ignore a ticket issued by a live officer. If you do, there will be consequences.
Now compare that with red light camera tickets. With the camera ticket you never sign a promise to appear. Because of this the court is limited in it’s ability to issue a warrant or place a hold on your license if you ignore the ticket. So in some regards, you can fix the problem by simply ignoring it. Now you will of course still receive a million letters from the collection agency demanding payment, notices or threats of increased fines, threats of the suspension of your license, warrants etc. But according to the people who use this method, none of these bad things ever actually happen in LA. This method was so effective that the city of LA actually started losing money on red light camera tickets. So recently, they stopped issuing tickets. They continued however to pay the collection agency and the camera company in an effort to collect the already outstanding citations. Other cities within the county of LA are still using the cameras and attempting to enforce red light camera tickets.
Four areas of further discussion here
1-Ignoring means completely ignoring. So if you have already done anything at all with the ticket besides ignore it, you have blown this opportunity. So if you have gone to court to check in on your ticket, or if you set a date online or over the phone, requested an extension, mailed in a letter, set it for trial, went to court and plead guilty for a fine but haven’t paid it yet, set up a payment plan, or whatever you did, this option is probably off the table. You blew it. No it’s not fair, but that’s what is happening.
2-Even though you can make a red light camera ticket go away in LA by COMPLETELY ignoring it, that doesn’t mean you should. You may feel or have a moral or ethical obligation to address the fact that you are alleged to have committed the violation. You may not like getting letters and calls from the collection agency. You may have court on other matters and you don’t want to have the red light camera tickets you are “strategically ignoring” thrown in your face while you stand in front of a judge. I have even seen judges make unfavorable bail decisions based on people having outstanding red light camera tickets.
3-I am not telling you and will not tell you that “it’s ok to ignore it”, or that they are illegal. I wrote a blog about this last year, and at least three people a day call my office to bitch about their camera tickets and request that I give them some sort of official clearance to ignore it. They want a written statement or even a verbal “it’s ok to ignore because my lawyer said so”. Not happening. All I can do is tell you what is happening and you make the choice what to do. But I’m sure you will keep calling….
4-If your ticket is from outside of Los Angeles county, this is not a good option. For some reason Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino seem to be more aggressive in applying penalties to drivers who ignore red light camera tickets. Riverside will actually place a hold on your license with the DMV if you ignore one of these and San Bernardino will take it even further by garnishing your wages to collect! If your ticket is outside of Southern California you will need to contact a traffic attorney in your local area to find out what’s happening in your jurisdiction with red light camera tickets.
What is Happening in Court As of Today in Los Angeles Traffic Court
I just came from Metro court in Downtown LA at 1945 S Hill Street. This is ground zero for LA traffic tickets. It’s the busiest traffic court in Southern California and thousands of traffic matters are on the docket every day. Now that the city of LA has stopped paying their contractors to collect and enforce on red light camera tickets, the system is falling apart. The current set up in Department 67 is that the “laptop cop” is no longer packing a laptop. He simply informs the court that he does not have the photo or video and the judge is ordering the cases dismissed. Note this does not mean you can skip your trial date. If you do that you could end up with an FTA and a suspension on your license. This also does not mean you can skip your arraignment date, same problem. This also doesn’t mean you can avoid paying for a red light camera ticket if you were already convicted weeks or months ago. This also does not mean you are getting a refund if you already paid. It just means if you have an arraignment date coming up, show up and plead not guilty. When you get to your trial date, your case should go away. If this sounds like a waste of your time and you want a lawyer to handle one or both appearances for you, call me at 800-797-8406 or email me at email@example.com and my office can handle the hassle of making the court appearances on your behalf.
Red Light Camera Ticket Traps to Avoid
NUMBER 1-The laptop cop showing up without the laptop rule only applies to tickets issued in the city of LA. If your ticket is from another city within the county of Los Angeles, the court may continue to prosecute these tickets at trial. Note you can and should still fight tickets in other areas with the defenses discussed above, but you actually have to show up and do the work. Don’t be surprised when the cop shows up with his or her laptop ready to prosecute your case. Other cities within LA still have contracts with the collection agency and the companies that install and maintain the cameras so they will continue to try to collect on their investment.
NUMBER 2-If your ticket is from outside of LA county, don’t go with the “strategically ignoring it” option. You can still fight the ticket with the defenses discussed above but don’t ignore the ticket. Neighboring counties continue to be very aggressive in attempting to collect and efforts include warrants, license suspensions, and even wage garnishments.
NUMBER 3-If you set your ticket for an extension or court date, don’t skip the date. You could face a license suspension or a warrant. If you set a date in the past and missed it and you currently have a suspension on your license, give me a call at 800-797-8406 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk about how to fix it.
NUMBER 4-Don’t fall for some half cheap internet advertisement about “Beat your red light camera ticket guaranteed” or any of the other stuff online. There are probably ads showing up for these services on this website thanks to google. When you hire one of these companies they are simply advising you how to file a trial by written declaration or assisting you with the declaration. You can do this yourself for free, and there are some great blogs written about how to do just that by other attorneys on this website and other sites on the web. Get your google on people. If you decide to do a trial by written declaration, go for it, but don’t pay a service. In addition to charging you for something you can get for free, choosing one of these services also means you are giving up the “strategically ignore it option”. Another negative is that you will have to post the full bail to file the trial by written declaration and you can often get an OR (Own Recognizance release or bail waiver) by going into court. Finally, putting on a good defense on red light camera tickets requires a court appearance.
Five ways to deal with a red light camera ticket
1-If you are the risky type and it’s in LA, YOU choose to ignore it and see what happens
2-If you are the DIY type, go in there and fight it yourself, it takes a ton of your time, but it feels good to win
3-If you want it done right and it’s worth a few bucks to make sure it’s done right-call me 800-797-8406 or email@example.com
4-If you are the DIY type and you made a mess out of it already, call me and I can clean up your mess
5-If you are a sucker you already paid an internet service to generate a form and then paid the full bail, and filed your trial by written declaration. When you get your guilty verdict in the mail, you have 20 days to call me so we can request a trial de novo and go to court to fix the mess you made by trying to go with the cheapest option.