Thursday, October 14, 2010

Presumption of Guilt and Civil Camera Scams

"So... if it's *your* vehicle, and it wasn't stolen, isn't it *your* responsibility?
A red light run is a red light run. They can put whatever cameras they want on there. You break the law, you pay for it." - KnightWing, Blog Comment on the post 'Fraud of Southlake Texas'

This is something I felt would be better responded to in a post format, rather then starting an extended comment thread that most readers will never see.

In a legal setting, the accused has what is known as a presumption of innocence. The burden of proof to establish that a crime has been committed rests firmly with the accuser. Even with such a wrong doing having been established, further burden of proof lies with the accuser to prove the assertion that the accused is in fact the guilty party. 
In essence, the accused is innocent until proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Let me proceed to set up an example:
A middle aged man living in Colorado owns a hatchet. While he is on vacation to Florida, his hatchet is used by his son to cut some branches off of a tree. While the branches of this tree are on property the man leases, the tree itself is in the neighbors yard. The tree gets sick, and dies. The family sues the man because it was his hatchet that did the cutting, ergo, he is responsible. After all, he did own it. 

An older woman owns a company that leases restaurant equipment to pizzerias in the surrounding areas. When a patron at the restaurant acquires salmonella from an improperly prepared pizza, she blames the woman who owns the oven. After all, she did own it.

Is assigning the blame to the owner, simply because he or she is the owner, the proper course of action?
No. Not even remotely. 

The responsibility lies with the one who committed the action, not the one who owns the property. 
Likewise, the responsibility for one running a red light lies with the driver, not the owner of the vehicle. When an officer of the law pulls a vehicle over for a moving violation, the fine is assessed to the individual who drove, not the owner of the vehicle. 

Now we return to the presumption of innocence. By presuming the owner of the vehicle to be the guilty party, the Red Light Camera system operated by RedFlex is a violation of this fundamental legal principle. With no way to prove who the driver of the vehicle is at the time of the alleged violation, there is no way to properly assign guilt. 

Additionally, I assert that the system is set up to intentionally make it easier to pay a minor ($75!!) 'administrative fee', in a paralegal administrative set up. One can request a formal court hearing, but the time and difficulty of doing such is not worth it for most individuals. Since the money is essentially poured into a quasi-private enterprise, it is a well laid scheme to make money for a selected group of individuals. 


Gino said...

palm boy: i'm walking down that camera road right now.

more specifically: they have to prove they contacted me in a letter before we go to the next step. its been 10 months already since the day i didnt recieve the letter.

Gino said...

the online video evidence i think is a trap.
they can tell if that vid was seen, or not. if you deny knowledge of notification, and then 'somebody' watches the link, then self-incrmination is just a shadow away.

KnightWing said...

I'll copy/paste the first response from your simultaneous post on facebook:

I hate to play "devil's advocate" here, but I will here, and usually do anyway. (Although I do agree with you.)

The thought here is that running a red light is now both a criminal act, as receiving a moving vehicle violation from a police of...ficer is evidence, and also a civil infraction. The civil infraction had to be created by cities who wanted red-light cameras, and it basically states that it is a public safety hazard to run red lights. Civil court is decidedly different than criminal court, because the accuser's burden of proof is not nearly so high. They have only to prove that there is a shared responsibility, and that you have a share.

A man owns a gun. His adult son takes that man's gun from his desk and shoots someone. Is the man criminally responsible? No, probably not. But he could be held partly to blame because he left his firearm so exposed. He could potentially be vulnerable to a civil suit against him.

The same with a car, as per the law, you owned the vehicle, and you are at least partly to blame for so flippantly lending it out. The city is basically suing you for being negligent.

The part I like is that they created a new law the same as an old one.
It's like saying "people are STILL murdering?" DANGIT! Hey, I know! Let's make a new law, so we can tax these guys like $500 per killing! At least then we can make a little money off it.

The red light cameras also have another interesting feature. If you refuse to pay the fine, they don't issue a warrant for your arrest or anything, since by any reasonable standard you haven't actually done anything bad, but they do send it to a collection agency, (which you still don't really have to pay) but it hurts your credit rating.

^I concur with all of that.^
What about in instances of incorrectly-parked cars? The police aren't going to sit there and wait for the driver to come back; they're just going to ticket the car's owner.

Cars are very different than hatchets and ovens, in that people are actually licensed to drive them, and there's lengthy processes in actually attaining ownership of a car. Owning a car is serious business, and the owner has a lot of responsibility.

If you're the owner of the vehicle, and you let someone else drive it, it's YOUR GORRAM PROBLEM WHAT THAT SOMEONE ELSE DOES WITH IT.

If you weren't the driver of the vehicle, you are still able to fight the ticket in court at a later date, correct?

Porcupine Nine said...

This whole "civil traffic" concept is itself a form of fraud, allowing the state to prosecute statutory violations without having the normal rules of evidence or Constitutional protections against the power of the state.

For a civil action to succeed, there needs to be a wronged party. This is the party who seeks compensation; the plaintiff. If my neighbor knocks over my mailbox with his car, I can sue him for the cost of replacing the mailbox. I cannot, though, make up a fine for any given act that causes no damage to me, and sue any "violators" in court and expect to win.

If a person is cited simply for driving 50 mph in a zone marked 40 mph, how exactly has he committed a tort against the state? How has he cost the state money by committing such an act, for which they must be compensated? It would be different if he knocked over a stop sign that had to be repaired or replaced.

It's an absurd perversion of the definition of civil court to pretend that it is anything but a de facto criminal prosecution (for violation of a statute, not for compensatory damages following a tort). It's certainly not punitive damages-- which are rarely awarded for a tort, and only when the tort is so terrible that it shocks the conscience of the community. Exceeding the speed limit doesn't even come close to this standard.

KnightWing said...

Post all the political platitudes you want, but if people aren't penalized for speeding, they will ignore speed limits, causing accidents.

Don't let philosophy cloud common sense.

Porcupine Nine said...

That's the big red herring, Knight. There is a huge conflict of interest when there is a profit motive in writing speeding tickets. It's already been proven that the rate of traffic collisions can be most reduced by setting the speed limits to the 85th percentile speed of the road (rounded up to the nearest increment of 5). This also results in the elimination of nearly all speeding.

This is not conjecture. This is the way speed limits are supposed to be set according to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is supposed to be the blueprint for speed limits and more across the nation.

Sounds like a great plan, right? Eliminate most accidents AND enhance compliance with the speed limit all at once? Sure, if your motive doesn't involve making profits from speeding tickets.

In most areas, speed limits are set well below the 85th percentile +5 baseline. These improper speed limits have poor rates of compliance (which is good if your business is writing profitable speeding tickets) and higher rates of traffic collisions than roads which are properly signed.

The "political platitudes" I posted (personally, I think due process and innocence intil proven guilty are more than platitudes) are all part of the same issue as these incorrectly low speed limits. Local and state governments are using traffic enforcement to fleece the public, telling us we are endangering public safety all the while, when it is their practices that actually cause unnecessary traffic collisions and deaths.

Palm boy said...

Gino, thats a funny strategy. Smarter then I was, I already viewed it.

Knight, way to post the comment from my co-host on The Outpost.

There are two options here. Either running a red light is a crime against the community, in which case it should be treated and tried as a crime.
Or, it is a civil offense, and the city is suing you for what may in the future possibly do harm.

The former has a presumption of innocence.
The latter has a presumption of guilt, simply because of the fine being levied by the controlling authority.

This brings us to the nub of the matter:
If running a red light, or any variety of moving violation is in fact a crime, then it should be treated as such in all circumstances, with the due presumption of innocence of the accused. Regardless of how the evidence for the accusation is to be acquired, it must be used to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.

If running a red light is not a crime, then it should not be treated as such. Theoretically speaking, the crime in running a red light is that you damage another vehicle. However, if no damage is done, what is the crime?
What we see with a civil violation is the controlling authority filing suit against an individual because of something that might happen in the future, something none to remote from the future-crimes scenario portrayed in Minority Report.

Aaron, you are still able to fight it in court. However, thats not a simple nor time efficient process for anyone involved.

Thanks. I think you're arguing what I'm trying to say quite well.

KnightWing said...

In Southlake, TX, a red light camera fine isn't a criminal violation; it's a misdemeanor, the same as a parking violation.

Should we not fine people for parking on sidewalks or in fire lanes?