EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, March 31, 2008

Red Light, Green Light?: Supreme Court of Iowa Hears Challenge To Red Light Cameras

Like many cities across the country, Davenport, Iowa began using computerized cameras, frequently referred to as "red light cameras," to monitor the speed of motorists and automatically issue tickets.  One of these cameras clocked the car of Thomas Seymour going 49 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone, resulting in Seymour automatically being given a $125 ticket.  The ACLU used Seymour's case as an opportunity to challenge Davenport's cameras on the ground that the cameras generate tickets for a vehicle's owner even though that owner may not have been driving the vehicle at the time of the infraction, and the case was recently heard by the Supreme Court of Iowa, which should issue a decision later this year. 

Critics of the cameras also claim that they are an impermissible government intrusion that violates the right to privacy while the government counters that the cameras raise revenues for cities and decrease the number of traffic accidents.  For instance, Davenport claims that the cameras have raised $1 million in revenue since they were installed in 2006, and a city analysis indicates that traffic accidents have decreased red light crashes by 60% at four intersections.  At the same time, other studies have shown that red light cameras have either had no effect on red light accidents or actually increased their frequency.

My goal isn't to resolve this dispute, although I have serious concerns with the red light cameras.  Instead, my goal is to analyze what the Supreme Court of Iowa will likely do with the legal argument of Seymour and the ACLU, which is that the "traffic cameras fail to give alleged offenders the right to confront their accuser."  And my answer is that they are almost certain to reject it.   

The Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants, inter alia, the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.  Now, Seymour is not technically a criminal defendant because Davenport treats the citations issued to people as a civil matter, but I assume that he is treated like a criminal defendant for Confrontation Clause purposes because the Iowa state code requires that people who run red lights be issued criminal citations.  If that's not the case, Seymour and the ACLU have no argument, but even if that is the case, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle that they face is that essentially every court that has addressed the issue has concluded that "the Confrontation Clause does not forbid the use of raw data produced by scientific instruments, though the interpretation of those data may be testimonial."  United States v. Moon, 512 F.3d 359, 362 (7th Cir. 2008).



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