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Hernando judge says red-light camera law is unconstitutional, dismisses right-on-red cases

Hernando County Judge Donald Scaglione, left, is automatically dismissing the cases of motorists caught on camera making rolling right turns on red lights. Here on Dec. 3, he presides over the swearing-in ceremony of Brooksville City Council members.

Courtesy of Kim Harsin (2012)

Hernando County Judge Donald Scaglione, left, is automatically dismissing the cases of motorists caught on camera making rolling right turns on red lights. Here on Dec. 3, he presides over the swearing-in ceremony of Brooksville City Council members.

BROOKSVILLE — Calling the enforcement process unconstitutional, a Hernando County judge is automatically dismissing the cases of motorists caught on camera making rolling right turns on red lights.

In an order signed last week, County Judge Donald E. Scaglione cites three reasons why the state law is "vague (and) arbitrary and capricious." Because of that, Scaglione wrote, enforcing a right-on-red violation is unconstitutional and a violation of due process rights.

As part of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act governing traffic camera programs, the Florida Legislature in 2010 created a defense that says a right turn on red without stopping is permissible if the turn is made "in a careful and prudent manner." But the law's failure to define those terms leads to arbitrary rulings, Scaglione wrote.

"There are 322 county judges and numerous hearing officers that have the ability to define and apply their terms," the judge wrote. "Without definition, there is a clear capricious nature of application."

Because cities and counties come up with their own definitions, Scaglione wrote, "There is no consistency … between jurisdiction boundaries."

Finally, Scaglione contends, the current law violates due process rights because a rolling right turn on red can result in two different outcomes depending on whether an officer stops a driver or the turn is caught on camera.

"If an officer observed the violation, there is not a defense of careful and prudent," he wrote. "If a camera observes the violation, there is a defense of careful and prudent. The drivers are not treated equally."

A bill revamping the red-light appeals process is currently awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature. The measure requires cities and counties to create an appeal process for drivers who want to contest a $158 administrative violation before it becomes a state-issued traffic citation. And it says drivers still can get tickets if they fail to stop at all before making the turn, but not if they simply do not stop before the line. Scaglione notes in his order, however, that nothing passed this session addresses the issues he raises in his order.

The city of Brooksville has cameras monitoring 16 approaches at eight intersections. Scaglione is one of two county judges who hear uniform traffic citation cases.

On Monday, it was Scaglione's turn to hear the cases. Citing his order, he dismissed all of the right-on-red citations.

Up until then, Scaglione had been using the "careful and prudent" standard, dismissing the majority of cases that came before him.

Scaglione declined to comment Tuesday. The other judge who handles red-light camera citations, Kurt Hitzemann, did not return a message from the Times, so it was unclear whether he will consider applying Scaglione's arguments in his own courtroom. Hitzemann's next citation docket is set for June 17.

Hitzemann's past rulings show he has his own legal concerns with the process. He has granted about 40 motions filed by Brooksville attorney Peyton Hyslop to dismiss cases, based on the argument that there is no way to confirm a citation was delivered to the defendant.

Hyslop has appeared before both judges representing about 80 clients. Of Scaglione's order, he said: "I'm very pleased with the result."

Brooksville police Chief George Turner said the order will not affect how the program is administered.

"We follow what the state law says to do, and that's what we're going to do," Turner said.

At least one other county judge in the Tampa Bay area has raised concerns about the constitutionality of the red-light camera citation process. In March, a Pasco County judge agreed with a man who argued that the process is unjust because the burden of proving who was driving the car falls on the defendant. The judge called the law "unconstitutional to the extent due process is not provided" and granted the man's motion to dismiss the case.

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

Hernando judge says red-light camera law is unconstitutional, dismisses right-on-red cases 05/14/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 10:28pm]
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