Defense lawyers have an almost unspoken tradition to compete for the “big cases” in any given jurisdiction. Defense attorneys crave the recognition and prestige that comes with representing a client whose case made the news or whose legal issues may send shock waves throughout the defense community after a win.
Our office is no different. Our firm practices exclusively in criminal and traffic defense, and like other attorneys, we routinely make the case to those charged with crimes as to why our team is better suited to provide them with the best defense available.
As our firm grew out of infancy, we began to see a larger and larger influx of calls from people with problems and nowhere to turn. They had a legal problem, but no one seemed to have any desire or capability to help them. Many of these people found themselves in do-or-die situations, fearing they would lose their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), lose their insurance and subsequent delivery job, or lose their ability to drive which would be terminal to their career.
The culprit? Photo radar traffic cameras, littered throughout Arizona.
We learned that virtually no attorneys in Arizona were helping people through these problems, and decided we would use our experience in criminal and traffic cases to build a robust defense platform for civil photo radar cases. After several years battling cities with photo radar enforcement programs, we have seen some disturbing enforcement policies, in one city in particular, that would make any defense attorney cringe.
Now, generally speaking, when it comes to photo radar, most people never notice the cameras until they see a big flash and mutter “bummer for that person” under their breath. Others even welcome these devices, misguidedly believing that they are doing more than just generating revenue for cities and private companies. Other (most) people want every camera ripped out of the ground.
Whatever your opinion, the majority of these infractions are usually simple. People receive a ticket in the mail, do driving school or pay the fine, and never need to contact an attorney. But what happens when a city perverts enforcement of these tickets, and the penalties are arguably worse than DUI?
Welcome to Scottsdale, Arizona!
Before we dive into the disturbing practices of the Scottsdale photo enforcement program in Arizona, let’s get our bearings straight about how these programs operate. Photo radar traffic enforcement in Arizona is operated on a city-by-city basis. Each city has the ability to implement and enforce their own programs. Some choose not to do so. Cities that do typically contract with private companies, either American Traffic Solutions or Redflex, to install, operate, and maintain the traffic cameras. In Scottsdale, fines average $250 per violation. The city gets a cut of every conviction, and so does the traffic company, American Traffic Solutions.
The systems issue two types of tickets: violations for running red lights and citations for speeding.
In Arizona, our Motor Vehicle Department operates on a 12-point scale. Red light violations add two points to a person’s license while a speeding violation adds three. An accumulation of points above 12 triggers an automatic license suspension. A DUI conviction in Arizona is eight points, which will be significant later.
This is where it gets important.
When an alleged violation occurs, the camera company and the “police department” have 60 days to file the ticket in the court as an actual violation. Once filed with the court, the city has 90 days to physically serve the defendant with the ticket. In Arizona, service is a requirement. Simply sending a ticket in the mail does not grant the court jurisdiction over the case.
This means that it is possible for a person to receive actual notice of the violation up to 150 days after the violation occurs.
Why is this significant? Because the city of Scottsdale exploits the hell out of this gap.
Consider the situation where a driver is stopped and cited by a live police officer. The driver is usually startled, nervous, and a bit fearful of the interaction with the officer. The officer has the opportunity to provide the driver with a minor tongue-lashing, an admonishment regarding their speed, and hand them a copy of a citation live and in person. This is effective at correcting behavior. The driver is rattled, knows they were in violation of the law, and makes an adjustment in their speed moving forward. Perfect. Effective law enforcement.
How does Scottsdale operate?
The camera company in Scottsdale, American Traffic Solutions, via the police aides with Scottsdale Police Department, sits on violations and does nothing with them for a period of time. This allows drivers to accumulate more violations. In many cases, drivers will get multiple violations, on multiple days, at the same intersection, such as on the way to work.
One traffic stop by a live officer would more than likely correct this behavior. These drivers, however, have no idea they are getting violations, nor should they, because nothing has been filed with the court and they have not received anything in the mail.
Then suddenly, before the statute of limitations expires, a dozen traffic tickets will be filed with the court all at the same time. A process server, or a re-purposed police officer, will show up at that person’s residence and drop a stack of tickets in their lap, finally providing them with notice of their violations.
Our last three clients in this situation were hit with the following penalties:
|8 speeding citations||$2,080||24||Automatic 1 year|
|9 speeding citations||$2,340||27||Automatic 1 year|
|11 speeding citations||$2,860||33||Automatic 1 year|
Let’s compare this with a first offense, regular DUI:
|1 regular DUI||$1,250
($250 DUI abatement, $500 prison construction, $500 public safety, credit for day of jail)
|8||30 day total suspension, 60 day restricted|
The person receiving 11 photo radar tickets may owe almost double the fine of a DUI and has an automatic 1-year license suspension. No restricted license—total suspension.
These clients were good people. Not maniacs zipping around all over the place, like my law partner (note: all citations successfully dismissed). The cameras trigger at 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, no matter the flow of traffic, the road conditions, or the time of day. So if all the other traffic is going 10 miles per hour over the limit, and one unlucky driver is going 11 over, that’s a violation.
This happens multiple times, on the way to work, school, or when picking up children. Suddenly, people are delivered nearly a dozen tickets. No other city with a photo enforcement program in Arizona operates this way, or even remotely close.
In Scottsdale, through their disturbing enforcement system policies, the penalties for photo radar violations can be worse than a DUI.
About the Author
Robert F. Gruler is a principal of R&R Law Group, a criminal defense law firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. Contact him at 480.400.1355 or Robert@rrlawaz.com.