Due process won a victory in New Orleans last week. A civil court appeals judge threw out a traffic ticket (for a right turn on red) because there was no human witness to the infraction.
The ruling comes a few months after Jefferson Parish temporarily suspended the program amid questions about the propriety of a revenue-sharing agreement with the cameras’ manufacturer. Let’s hope Orleans suspends its program as well, before it gets as cynical as some other cites and starts to really sacrifice motorist safety for revenue.
Attorney Joe McMahon had challenged the the ticket he was issued by Orleans Parish for an illegal right-turn on a red light at the intersection of Carrollton Ave. and Earhart Blvd. back in October 2008. Although his vehicle was caught on camera, McMahon argues the city cannot prove he was actually driving the car. McMahon told WDSU, “The law requires that evidence be introduced at trials… to make sure the evidence is authentic and reliable. By not having a witness there to authenticate these pictures, there is no reliability. I think that’s why the judge ruled the way he did.”
Under the Eighth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, an accused criminal has a right to confront witnesses against him in a court of law. Louisiana state law dictates the criminal penalties for running a red light. But like other jurisdictions across the country that have installed the revenue-generating cameras, Orleans Parish treats the traffic violations as civil matters rather than criminal ones.
That creative dodge may not hold up if McMahon continues to win in the courts. Besides the case involving his own ticket, McMahon has filed a class-action suit against Orleans Parish with other camera victims; and acting as an attorney for others has filed similar class actions in Jefferson and Lafayette parishes.
Here’s to hoping for his future success and for more judges that treat Louisianans as people with Constitutional rights to due process; and not just ATMs for local governments.