The California Supreme Court made it easier today for prosecutors to use red-light camera evidence against drivers who fail to stop at traffic signals.
In a ruling issued in San Francisco, the court unanimously said that images and data automatically recorded by the cameras have a “presumption of authenticity” similar to the presumption for other types of photos and videos.
Under the presumption, the camera evidence is considered valid unless a defendant can successfully challenge it.
The court ruled in the case of Carmen Goldsmith, who was convicted in Los Angeles County Superior Court of a traffic infraction and fined $436 for failing to stop at a red light at an intersection in Inglewood in 2009.
The only prosecution witness in the non-jury trial was an Inglewood police investigator who had not personally witnessed the incident, but who had worked in red-light camera enforcement for six years and who testified about how the system worked.
In her appeal, Goldsmith argued that prosecutors should have been required to provide more evidence to authenticate the cameras. She also claimed the recordings should have been considered second-hand hearsay evidence.
But the state high court upheld a California law that provides that red-light camera evidence has the same presumption of validity as other types of photos and videos.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote that from the investigator’s testimony:
“… it can be reasonably inferred that the (camera) system automatically and contemporaneously recorded the images of the intersection and the date imprinted on the photographs.”
“No elaborate showing of accuracy is required” for the automatically produced images and data, the chief justice said.
The court also rejected Goldsmith’s claim that the camera evidence was hearsay, which is defined as second-hand evidence about a statement made by a person.
The panel said the automatically generated camera images and data were presentations of information by a machine, not a person. Quoting from an earlier ruling, Cantil-Sakauye:
“The evidence code does not contemplate that a machine can make a statement.”
Under the red-light camera system, which is authorized by the California Vehicle Code, drivers are identified through photos of their license plates.