The latest decision in the red light camera wars was just handed down by the Florida Supreme Court. The court struck down ordinances in Aventura and Orlando on Thursday, June 12, but only as to cameras that were in use before the 2010 state law authorizing red light cameras. The court reasoned that before the state law was in place red light cameras were governed by municipal law and were applied unevenly from city to city, making the law unpredictable for citizens of the state of Florida.
Red light cameras are a hot issue across the country for several reasons: whether or not individual rights are infringed by this kind of camera and fine system, for example, is commonly discussed in this context. However, this was not the subject of the Florida case. Instead, the Florida Supreme Court pointed out that the only issue it had to consider was whether or not cities were allowed to pass red light camera laws before the 2010 state law was passed.
One possible outstanding issue is the fines that were paid by red light violators before 2010. The court's opinion does not mention returning fines, but a footnote in the dissenting opinion states that the opinion says that the money paid in fines must now be returned. The official decision, however, upholds a lower court's decision which denied class status to plaintiffs who had paid fines and demanded their money back. Why? Because the fines were paid voluntarily.
Even so, expect to see lawyers continue to press for the return of the fines to citizens. Drivers who disputed their ticket fines may have better cases for the return of their money. City lawyer Mayanne Downs estimates that the city of Orlando may have to return $100,000 to motorists who disputed red light camera tickets before 2010. Downs also points out that the cameras have saved lives, making even the years when they were ultimately found illegal worthwhile for the cities impacted.
This Florida decision is just the latest in the U.S. Various challenges to red light cameras have sprung up across the country with varying levels of success for drivers. Most states—New York is a notable exception—hold the actual driver captured by the red light camera liable, regardless of who the registered owner of the car is. This offers one possible defense to red light camera citations.
Other drivers challenge the quality of red light camera photos, but with current technology this is of limited value. Red light cameras are supposed to have visible signs posted warning of their presence. If there aren't any, this is another point of challenge. Finally, each time a red light camera citation is disputed, some kind of technician must testify as to the authenticity of the evidence produced by the camera. If no one does this in any given case, the evidence can be challenged by the driver.
Initial mistrust of the technology itself was apparently at the root of many early challenges of the red light camera system. However, the national trend seems to be in favor of red light cameras. This latest Florida decision, while it invalidates certain tickets and possibly fines, does signal that red light cameras are valid overall. California is home to the world's highest fines dealt out by cameras for running red lights.