Are red light tickets legal?

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Last month, two south Florida drivers have filed a class action lawsuit against a private company that ran red light cameras for more than 70 Florida municipalities, including Jacksonville.  Christopher Parker and Marwa Moussa said in a lawsuit that their rights to due process were violated by the Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions.  They say the company was given improper authority for decisions that should have been made by law enforcement officers.  The lawsuit is seeking more than $5 million and seeks to include anyone who was issued a ticket and paid fines from cases handled by the company.  The cameras capture motorists running through red lights or committing other traffic violations.

Only after an appeals court shot down how red-light camera tickets were issued, was this class action filed.  The Broward appeals court two weeks ago that found the the city of Hollywood illegally allowed ATS, rather than police officers, to effectively issue the citations to motorists who supposedly ran red lights.  Broward’s Fourth District Court of Appeals said “for all practical purposes,” the private company was the one deciding which cases get prosecuted.  “Florida law does not grant the city any authority to delegate to a private third-party vendor the ability to issue uniform traffic citations,” the judges ruled.  The decision, so far, is not technically final because Hollywood is asking the court to reconsider — or ask that the issue be “certified,” which would pave the way for the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in.

Red-light cameras have been a controversial issue since cities began installing cameras at intersections, then mailing violations to surprised drivers. Supporters insist the program enhances safety on the roads, while critics say they are blatant money grabs.

You might ask – “How does the system work?”

Company representatives view video footage, stored on a computer, and forward any supposed red-light camera violations to the city. If a city police employee agrees the footage shows a violation, they click a digital “accept” button and the company prints and issues a “notice of violation” to the motorist.  If the motorist fails to pay the fine, then ATS issues a citation on behalf of the city, featuring a digital signature of the law enforcement officer.

I wonder if Jacksonville and other cities will start to rethink the benefits of the red light camera program, as many expect a slew of class action lawsuits to start popping up all across the state.

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