May 4, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
“On our way to San Diego, we stopped for lunch upon reaching Long Beach,” began an email from Alex, who reads this column in his hometown newspaper, the Selma Enterprise, owned by The Sentinel.
It would prove to be a very long, complicated and potentially expensive lunch indeed, as weeks later, a little souvenir of that stop arrived in the mail: a red-light camera ticket.
If you’ve just gotten one of these traffic citations, today’s You and the Law contains important information that could not only save a great deal of money, but keep you out of jail — even if you were not driving.
Yes, we said jail, all because of a red-light camera ticket.
Photos of my car — but I wasn’t driving
“There were photos of my car making a left turn and, according to the ticket, going through when the traffic signal went from a green arrow to red, but I can’t determine the color from either the photos, or by going online and viewing the actual video.
“I am the 68-year-old registered owner, so I know why the ticket came to me, but I wasn’t driving at that time. My 18-year-old nephew was, as we changed drivers about a half an hour earlier, and the red light camera got a clear photo of him behind the wheel.
“I have spent hours on the phone, trying to speak with someone at the police department or the court who will just use their eyes, look at my DMV photo, and drop the matter. But everyone I talk with tells me that I must identify the driver. It is my understanding that I have no legal obligation of doing so. Is that correct?
“A date to appear in court or pay the several-hundred-dollar fine is rapidly approaching. What should I do?” our Selma reader asked.
Don’t toss the ticket!
We phoned Alex and learned that — fortunately — he did not follow the advice of a friend who told him, “Just shred it because none of these tickets are valid.”
Southern California-based traffic defense attorney Paul Denni has seen firsthand what can happen when that “tear-up-the-ticket” advice is followed:
“Depending upon which jurisdiction issued a speeding or red-light ticket, months or even years later you could be arrested, your car impounded, and you could potentially wind up in jail for a Failure to Appear — a misdemeanor — in addition to other serious consequences.
“That’s what can happen when almost any traffic ticket is ignored. That’s why it is critical to initially assume the citation is valid — not necessarily that you would lose fighting it in court — but that it was legally issued and will be enforced.”
“Red-light (and speed-camera tickets in states which use them) are being challenged in the courts and by local governments. Yes, a number of cities have pulled down the cameras, and in some instances, it is safe to shred the ticket, but you cannot trust Internet postings which can be not just wrong, but dangerous if followed,” Denni stressed.
“So, how do you know if the ticket is valid? It’s best to speak with a traffic defense attorney who handles these types of citations where you were ticketed. In Southern California, for example, within Los Angeles County, some courts are still prosecuting these camera tickets, while others are not.”
You do not have to snitch
“Your Selma reader is so typical. He wasn’t driving his car, had no idea anything was wrong until the notice of violation arrives in the mail, and then uses common sense, assuming that the issuing agency will dismiss the ticket when they see that he could not have been driving. But that’s where common sense and a city’s hunger for traffic ticket revenue part ways,” Denni tells You and the Law.
“No matter what you are told by law enforcement, court clerks or even the judge, you do not have to reveal who was driving or who is in the photo. Expect an enormous amount of pressure — from everyone in the process — to turn you into a snitch, making it seem that you are under a duty to tell all. You aren’t!”
So far, Alex has not been able to get any cooperation from the police or courts, but there is still much that anyone in his situation can accomplish without having to appear in court.
We’ll tell you what steps to follow next week, as well as hear from Denni on how you can better handle your own ticket in court, or even avoid getting one in the first place. His website is www.duiandtrafficattorney.com, and it is filled with useful information.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.