ST. PETERSBURG — While the debate raged last week about violations from red-light cameras in Pinellas County, the city's chief assistant attorney found himself challenging a ticket of his own.
A magistrate found Mark Winn not guilty last week of making a right turn on red while driving 12 mph at 38th Avenue N and 66th Street N.
Winn said he used a simple defense, supported by the video of him making the turn on July 22.
His brake lights were on as he made the turn, no traffic was approaching and no pedestrians were in the crosswalk, he said.
Winn, 58, said he didn't seek special treatment or boast that he was a city attorney. "I think the system worked exactly the way it was supposed to," he said about the five-minute hearing. "I told the judge my story."
Florida law says violations "may not be issued for failure to stop at a red light if the driver is making a right-hand turn in a careful and prudent manner at an intersection where right-hand turns are permissible."
The video showed "careful and prudent" behavior and that he slowed even more while turning, Winn said, adding: "I was driving slower than 12 mph."
The retired officers who decide whether to issue a violation look at whether traffic or pedestrians are in danger when cars go through the intersections, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt. He described the process as a judgment call.
This isn't Winn's first victory with a camera violation.
A judge dismissed a citation in March 2012 when a camera caught Winn going through a red light four months earlier at 22nd Avenue N and Fourth Street.
In the first 13 months of the camera program, police issued only seven violations for drivers traveling less than 12 mph. But 520 were issued to drivers going 12 mph.
More than 11,000 violations went to drivers going between 13 mph and 19 mph, according to Matt Florell, a camera critic who frequently produces reports on St. Petersburg's program.
Last week Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Ken Burke urged six Pinellas cities to stop issuing red-light camera violations until flaws with the program are fixed because the state law doesn't treat violators equally.
Bills filed this legislative session could reform the camera program. For now, the bills seek to make it easier to contest red-light camera violations by putting a greater burden of proof on governments. The bills also would ban the practice of ticketing motorists who turn right on red.
Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.