Elmwood Place’s use of cameras and electronic equipment to catch speeders has generated a lot of controversy. A lot of tickets have been issued, but are they legal?
Listen to Mike Allen discuss this issue on WLW
Last month, the Village installed speed cameras in two locations. A private company, Optotraffic, supplies the monitoring equipment to the Village, provides the photos that show alleged violations, and handles bookkeeping. A sworn law enforcement officer must actually issue the citation, however.
Violators are issued Notices of Liability – which are civil violations, not criminal speeding tickets – and assessed a fine of $105. The failure to pay a fine and subsequent late fees will result in collection action. Because the cases are civil – not criminal – the Village cannot suspend driver’s licenses for the failure to pay the fines. No points can be assessed on a driver’s record, but collection actions could affect a driver’s credit ratings and scores.
The actual motives for the cameras have been questioned. The Village claims that this is about traffic safety, but others have suggested that this is simply an effort to raise revenue for the Village. On Fox 19, Mike Allen said, “Make no mistake. This is about raising money. It’s a shakedown of people that happen to be driving through the village. It’s something that’s of questionable constitutionality.”
FOX19.com-Cincinnati News, Weather
Some legal issues include the reliability and accuracy of the equipment, as well as procedural challenges necessary to make the machines comply with Ohio law.
Do the cameras violate the civil rights of drivers? One of the issues is the delay in notifying the driver. Usually, if an officer observes someone speeding, the person is immediately pulled over and issued a citation. However, with a camera system, the notice of violation may not arrive for days or even weeks. This can undermine the ability of the motorist to contest the citation, since memories fade over time. This is important because license plate cameras may not always be able to ascertain with 100% certainty the plate number.
Another possible due process problem is that the tickets are issued to the owner of the car. No effort is made to ascertain the identity of the driver. This turns the presumption of innocence on its head – a car owner must prove that he or she is not the driver. Allen told Fox 19, “I think they presume that people that are driving through there that are clocked … are guilty and you’re supposed to be presumed innocent.”
A separate concern is the invasion of privacy, as the cameras can be used to record the identity of every car that passes through the Village. While the invasion of privacy by a single camera system may be minimal, if more government install these cameras, and then share data (through, for example, Fusion Centers), government agents may be able to piece together a comprehensive map of an individual’s movements without obtaining a warrant or without any other court oversight.
The use of the cameras, the due process issues, and the approach of using civil law instead of criminal law have been challenged in a number of court cases around the country. The United States Supreme Court has not, however, ruled on this issue.
Update: The Ohio Criminal Appeals Blog notes that the Federal Court of Appeals in Cincinnati addressed the due process issues in an unpublished opinion. The court, in a split decision, rejected an argument that a speed ordinance in Akron violated due process rights. A dissenting judge, however, was concerned that the ordinance did not do enough to identify the driver of the vehicle.