Day In Court (aka Casino Justice)

I’ve had quite a few people inquire into my experience with the camera ticket I received. I’m sorry I can’t respond to everyone individually.

I went to traffic court this past Monday, in Redwood City (San Mateo County). My plan was to plead not guilty and get a hearing date. As I was sitting there waiting my turn, I really got how this has nothing to do with “justice”. It is fully a shakedown for money—period. And, the fines for most “offenses” have gotten so steep. The judge, from the get-go, offered a deal of a $100 fine reduction that motivated most people to acquiesce rather than fight. It was made rather clear that the judge’s goal was to get the absolute most money out of people and discourage them from proceeding on to a hearing.

There were a number of people with similar camera tickets who just assumed that because there are pictures, they are automatically guilty. Therefore, it was not surprising that they plead guilty and ponied up the $525, minus the $100 (judge’s blue light special).

I believe that I previously mentioned that there was a “failure to appear” attached to my ticket. It’s a long convoluted story, that involved a move, a few days before this ticket, and included confused address changes that apparently sent the ticket notice into some black hole. My first notice was via my driver’s license renewal being held hostage.

When it was my turn, the judge stated that I had these two charges and asked for my plea. I plead not guilty. I think he was surprised, because he couldn’t wait to offer me a “deal”. He immediately offered to dismiss the camera ticket if I would plead guilty to the failure to appear. Remember, his job is to collect as much money as he can—something/anything! So, dilemma, dilemma!

As far as I was concerned, both of these charges were bogus and the idea of laying down, even on the lesser of the two, was still frustrating! Based just on principle, I wanted it all to go away! But, here’s the rub. If you want to go to trial, you have to pay for that privilege. This is where it got very clear that this is nothing more than a casino, where you have to weigh your odds against the house. It’s clearly not about justice! If I chose to opt for a hearing, I’d have to put up the full bail amount of $775—immediately—wait for the trial, and would only get a refund if the case was won or dismissed. Based on the fact that I couldn’t tie up my money, I opted to go with the “failure”, which cost me $220. And, although I had documentation to prove I had properly changed my address, the judge would not allow it. For what it’s worth, nothing will show on my driving record.

I consider this a partial victory, but I also get that the judge knew if this was to go to trial, their camera scam would have been blown apart. The reason I say this is because a state appellate court has overturned a camera ticket case in Orange County. Thanks so much to Maureen W. for bringing this to my attention. You can read it here: courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/JAD10-01.PDF

In a nutshell, the appellate decision states that it’s illegal to use photos as evidence, unless in very specific instances (spelled out in the decision) and the person administering these photos is required to be an employee of the state of California. Camera tickets are generated by a private company out of Arizona, through which many California municipalities contract with.

There are a host of other issues I discovered in my research, but here are just a couple: Private camera companies require that the various cities, contracting with them, maintain a specified quota of tickets to retain their services. It’s illegal under CA law to have quotas. The other issue I discovered is that in many of the intersections that have cameras, yellow light durations have been shortened. This is also illegal. Based upon the speed limit approaching an intersection, there’s a formula that calculates the minimum yellow light duration. In fact, I just learned that the yellow light duration at the intersection where my ticket was generated was changed from 3 seconds to 3.5 seconds, last month. This was done because the duration was legally deemed too short. My ticket stated that the light had been red for .7 seconds when I entered the intersection. By adding in the additional .5 seconds, that should have been there, can a human (traffic cop) count .2 seconds?

There’s more I could get into, but I think I’d need to write a book. The ultimate point I’m attempting to make here is that awareness, and homework, is key in understanding how our “justice” system works. It’s never quite as it appears, and I’d suggest never taking things at face value. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything because ultimately you need to discover that for yourself. If you’re convinced of your guilt and feel the need to ease that guilt by sending lots of money to the government, please do so. I’m just attempting to build awareness around this casino scam known as traffic court. Don’t be afraid to push back, because the bottom line—which I didn’t even touch on here—is getting the “People of California” to prove that they’ve in some way been harmed and therefore have a claim against you.

A couple of other HAI folks, and I, are starting the process of coalescing this info into a useful process that others can use. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “Day In Court (aka Casino Justice)

  1. Thank you for this info. I wish I’d seen it before I paid my $525 a couple weeks ago (and still have traffic school). Same thing: red light that changed from yellow so fast I’d have had to stop in the middle of the intersection going 25 mph in Belmont.

    Somewhere I heard about the OC case, but nonetheless shelled out my VERY HARD-TO-COME-BY money thinking, “They must have overturned that case” being too busy to do research. I just assume that the law isn’t going to disobey the law in my backyard!!

    When you wrote that others in the court room paid $100 to settle, does that mean they also paid the $525 ticket too?

    Thanks for doing the research.

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