Friday, March 10, 2017

Traffic-camera ticket turns into constitutional fight

When people receive a traffic-camera ticket in the mail, they likely all react the same way. I’m going to fight it, he says. It’s just not right, she says to herself.

The gut reaction is common, because there are many questions. Was I even driving during that time? Can they prove I was the one driving? Does this still-frame photo that shows my vehicle in the intersection with a red light prove that it wasn’t yellow when I entered, and does it indicate that it wasn’t the safest choice?

Yep. We all dream of fighting these cases and likely envision ourselves delivering an impassioned speech to the court as if we were the main character in a John Grisham novel.

But, in reality, we usually pay the ticket and move on.

However, Adam J. MacLeod, a law professor from Faulkner University in Alabama, didn’t let it go. He lived our dreams for us.

MacLeod fought a traffic-camera speeding ticket in municipal court and then appealed to a county-level circuit court. While his experience isn’t intended as legal advice, it’s a fascinating story.

I encourage you to read every bit of it, but here’s an excerpt from the article in Public Discourse, telling about the trial’s cross-examination with the police officer who signed the affidavit.

On cross-examination, I established that:
  • He was not present at the time of the alleged violation.
  • He has no photographic evidence of the driver.
  • There were no witnesses.
  • He does not know where Adam MacLeod was at the time of the alleged violation. 

And so on. I then asked the question one is taught never to ask on cross—the last one. “So, you signed an affidavit under the pains and penalties of perjury alleging probable cause to believe that Adam MacLeod committed a violation of traffic laws without any evidence that was so?”

Without hesitating he answered, “Yes.” This surprised both of us. It also surprised the judge, who looked up from his desk for the first time. A police officer had just testified under oath that he perjured himself in service to a city government and a mysterious, far-away corporation whose officers probably earn many times his salary.

As I said, you need to read the whole story. Once you do, you’ll be like me and want to thank Adam J. MacLeod for living out our dream for us.