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Brooksville renews fight for red-light camera citations

One Hernando judge ruled that red-light cameras could not be used for right-on-red violations and another questioned using photos in court.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)

One Hernando judge ruled that red-light cameras could not be used for right-on-red violations and another questioned using photos in court.

BROOKSVILLE — The city of Brooksville is trying to revive its long-dead chances of defending red-light camera cases in court.

But the biggest news for drivers might be what is missing from the city's legal argument.

At least for now, assistant City Attorney Cliff Taylor said, the city will only prosecute traffic citations against drivers who travel straight through intersections — not those making a careless right turn on red.

The reason is the state's 2010 red-light camera law, which says drivers don't necessarily have to come to a stop before turning right on red, but merely make such turns in a "careful and prudent manner."

Over a year ago, then-Hernando County Judge Don Scaglione ruled that this language had led to a variety of interpretations, resulting in enforcement that was arbitrary and unconstitutional.

At first, that meant Scaglione, now a circuit judge, refused to hear those cases. Though he modified his position after it was challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi, the result was the same:

"We can't win right now," Taylor said of right-on-red cases. "I know what the court's position is, and I want the city's position to be founded on more consistent evidence."

But another legal hurdle remains to prosecuting even drivers caught on camera speeding through intersections after the light turns red: getting still photographs and videos from the cameras admitted as evidence.

That was one objection raised by another county judge, Kurt Hitzemann, in 2012.

Peyton Hyslop, a Brooksville lawyer who has represented numerous ticketed drivers, said photos traditionally have been admitted on the testimony of the person who took them or another witness at the scene.

Automated photographs could be admitted with the testimony of someone who set up the camera, but that is not feasible for every red-light camera case.

In a brief filed last week, Taylor, who has been temporarily named an assistant prosecutor by the State Attorney's Office so he can argue on behalf of the state, wrote that the city follows a protocol for capturing red-light images that has been approved by the state Department of Transportation.

The police officer who reviews the photos for the city can testify that they accurately reflect the intersection depicted, Taylor argued. He cited decisions by other judges in Florida who have admitted red-light camera images.

Taylor hopes his argument will also set an important precedent. Depending on the result, he will ask that it skip the usual next step and be heard by the 5th District Court of Appeal, which covers 13 counties in Central Florida.

He originally filed the motion with two red-light camera cases last week but withdrew it to allow him to refine his presentation. He now plans to attach it to two separate cases scheduled to be heard next month.

Taylor's decision to focus only on straight-through drivers applies only to the cases that come to court, where they are treated as traffic citations.

Unless drivers challenge their citations, they are code enforcement violations that carry a $158 fine.

The city could not provide a percentage of the camera citations that are issued for failing to take proper care while turning right. Previous records of fines at one intersection, however, showed the figure to be about 70 percent.

Judging from the amount of revenue collected from red-light citations, many motorists simply pay the initial fine because they don't realize how easy it is to challenge the cases, especially the ones involving right turns, Hyslop said.

Total revenue collected from red-light cameras has declined in the year since Scaglione's ruling. But unless an ongoing ballot initiative puts an end to the camera program during the coming fiscal year, the city expects to collect about $2.3 million in red-light fines, according to its proposed budget; about $1.8 million of that is paid to either the state or the private contractor that installed the cameras.

"You get a letter in the mail from the city saying you owe money, and you live in Kalamazoo, Mich. — those people don't know anything," Hyslop said. "They just send the money in."

Dan DeWitt can be reached at dewitt@tampabay.com or (352) 754-6116.

Brooksville renews fight for red-light camera citations 08/23/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2014 8:55pm]
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