RED LIGHT CAMERA TICKETS IN CALIFORNIA
When receiving a red light camera ticket and seeing there are photographs and a video, many people believe that they are "caught" and should just pay the fine, rather than fighting the ticket. However, even if you received a red light camera ticket where the photographs show you are clearly the driver, there are still some defenses that can be used to beat your ticket.
Also, the worst thing that can happen when you contest your ticket is that you are found guilty, and have to pay the fine, which is the same result as if you paid the ticket to begin with. If you are eligible for traffic school, the court should still allow you to do traffic school even if you are found guilty. Therefore, you are not losing anything by fighting your ticket. Below are some of the possible defenses you can use when fighting your red light camera ticket.
Notice to Appear Must be sent within 15 Days of the Alleged Violation
When receiving a red light camera ticket, be sure to check the date that the alleged violation occurred, and then the date that the officer actually signed the ticket. California Vehicle Code Section 40518 requires that the ticket must be delivered to the registered owner of the vehicle within 15 days of the alleged violation. Usually the ticket is mailed out on the date the officer signs it, and takes at least a day or two to reach you through the mail.
If you are the registered owner of the vehicle and those dates are more than 15 days apart, you have a good chance of beating your ticket because the notice does not comply with the requirement under the Vehicle Code. However, this only applies to the registered owner of the vehicle, so if you are not the registered owner and received the ticket after the 15 day window because the registered owner revealed your identity, you will not be able to use this argument successfully.
Objecting to the Evidence
Another argument that can be made for a red light camera ticket is that the photographs and video are not trustworthy because they have been prepared in contemplation of litigation, and should not be admitted as evidence against you. Generally, documents that are prepared in contemplation of litigation are untrustworthy and biased because the person preparing it knows that court action is imminent, and could frame the documents in such a way as to give them an edge when their day in court arrives.
You should object to the use of the photographs and video as evidence, because it cannot be trusted that they are an accurate depiction, for reasons discussed above. Because the red light camera company is really just looking for profitable convictions to further their business, the evidence cannot be completely trusted. Also, as studies have shown that red light cameras do not significantly reduce accidents (and in fact some areas have shown an increase in accidents because drivers will slam on their brakes to avoid a red light camera ticket), it is possible that the City itself is looking for a revenue source rather than a way to discourage unsafe drivers.
The City Must Post Signs Giving You Notice of the Red Light Cameras
Another argument that can be used for fighting your red light ticket is that the City may not have posted adequate notice that a red light camera is being used in the intersection of your alleged violation. California Vehicle Code Section 21455.5(a)(1) requires that the governmental agency utilizing the red light camera system must post signs within 200 feet of the intersection.
Not only must a sign be posted, the sign must also comply with the Department of Transportation's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices ("MUTCD"). These requirements include adequate visibility and legibility, meaning the sign must be easily visible to drivers and it must be "legible to those for whom it is intended" and "be understandable in time to permit a proper response." [MUTCD Section 2A.06(04B)]. If the sign does not comply with the requirements, then it cannot be said to provide adequate notice, and your case should be dismissed.
Minimum Yellow Light Time
Finally, another good argument that can be used, and works quite well in some courts such as Oakland Superior Court, is that the yellow light was not long enough to comply with the required yellow time in accordance with the speed limit. You should request that the officer submit proof to the court that the intersection where your alleged violation occurred is in compliance with the Department of Transportation's minimum yellow light intervals as outlined in the Traffic Manual.
For example, in an intersection where the speed limit is 45 MPH, the yellow light must be at least 4.3 seconds long. If it is shorter than that time, any violations at this intersection are invalid, because the yellow light is not long enough for drivers to stop safely.
As seen above, there are numerous arguments which can be used to fight your red light camera ticket, even if the photographs clearly show that you were driving. Because red light camera tickets do involve arguments based on the Evidence Code, it may be helpful to hire an experienced traffic ticket attorney who understands the rules of evidence to help you fight and win your case.