Brooksville's red-light camera program gets first legal test

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville's reinstated red-light camera program will get its first legal test when a Spring Hill man takes his case before Hernando County Judge Kurt Hitzemann on Monday.

Julio Carral, 45, received a citation in the mail last month telling him that his 2005 Lexus sedan was photographed on May 23 running a red light at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Wiscon Road.

Carral never paid the $158 ticket. Instead, he hired Brooksville lawyer Peyton Hyslop to fight the citation.

While Hyslop, a former county judge, wouldn't speak directly about the specifics of the case, he said last week that there are several pertinent legal points that he feels could sway the case in his client's favor, including the notion that the way the red-light camera program is run denies vehicle owners of their right to due process.

According to Hyslop, citations are sent to the owner of the vehicle without regard to who was behind the wheel when the infraction occurred. In addition, he believes that issuing a citation based solely on photographic and video evidence goes against the state's basic rules of evidence.

A police officer who issues a normal red-light ticket can be cross-examined in court about the circumstances of the incident, Hyslop explained. But that can't happen with a time-stamped photo or video.

"It's directly contrary to what is allowed, and that, I believe, makes that evidence inadmissible," Hyslop said.

Approved by the Brooksville City Council last October, the first of 20 planned red-light cameras started going up in May at three major intersections along U.S. 41. According to the Brooksville Police Department, the cameras, which are operated by Sensys America, have netted 3,205 violations to date.

When the cameras catch a vehicle running a red light, the vehicle owner is mailed a ticket. Drivers making slow right-hand turns on red lights are not ticketed.

Owners have 30 days to decide how to respond. Since the Brooksville program was reinstated, none of the violations has been challenged in court.

While attorneys throughout Florida have had some success overturning camera violations in county courts, rulings in high courts have been mixed.

The Florida Court of Appeal has split on the photo enforcement question. In July, the 5th District court ruled that implementation of red-light cameras prior to state legislative approval in 2010 was illegal. But other districts have upheld the use of the automated ticketing machines.

The only other challenge to the city's red-light camera program came as a result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2009 against the city and its former camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions.

While plaintiffs in that case were able to reach a partial settlement with ATS, the city did not participate. Assistant Brooksville attorney Robert Battista said that the case remains in limbo while the city awaits the outcome of an Orlando red-light camera case before the Florida Supreme Court.

Battista said the city will be represented at Monday's hearing by assistant city attorney Michael Brannigan.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Brooksville's red-light camera program gets first legal test 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 10:23am]

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