Today I went to court to fight a camera ticket I received for speeding in the city of Mesa, Az. It was the first time I ever fought a speeding ticket, and the first camera ticket I had received. And everything I ever thought I knew about fighting a traffic ticket turned out to be dead wrong.
I was sent 3 photos, that display a time frame along with placement of my vehicle on the road, and a website had video showing roughly 15 seconds of my truck moving along the road. Open shut case. What was my defense?
My defense was that I was served 3 months after the date of the alleged infraction and I had no recollection of the alleged infraction. How would it be possible for me to recall a specific date and time 3 months prior and know the specific speed I was traveling at that moment? There was not, so I had no choice but to plead not guilty. My other defense being technical in terms and questioning the reliability of the cameras, bringing 10 separate articles about speed camera glitches, false tickets being sent, etc.
I noted the name of the officer on the ticket who reviewed and signed off on the violation. I wrote up a list of questions to ask him. As I got to court, there was one other young man waiting with me who also received a camera speeding ticket. However in his case, he was on a motorcycle, wearing a helmet, and his face was completely unidentifiable in the photo.
A man approached me, identified himself as Joseph (same name as the traffic cop who issued the ticket so I assumed it was him) and asked me to come into a separate room so he could display the evidence against me, at which point he played the video and showed me the photos.
As I sat before the Judge, Joseph asked the Judge to quickly dismiss the case of the man on the motorcycle since he face was not visible, and the judge agreed. I thought this was fantastic since once of my questions was about their review process, and why people would receive tickets if the driver was not identifiable.
Joseph, representing the state, then began my playing the video, describing the technology used (distance VS time) and displaying the photos. The judge then asked if I had questions for Joseph. Yes of course! My first question, who is your employer? The response was not what I was expecting; American Traffic Solutions. I asked if he was a police officer for the city of Mesa? He said No. I presented my ticket that listed his name as the issuing officer. He said that was not him. I was a bit shocked at that moment, asking where was the officer? “Probably at the police station” answered the man. I thought the issuing officer had to be present and I had the right to face my accuser. I was told, by the corporate man representing the state, not by the judge, that in traffic cases such as these, hearsay is admissible.
I then ran through my list of questions: I asked what the police officers review process was to reject or approve a ticket. He explained how thorough the police officer would be. If that was true I said, why would someone wearing a motorcycle helmet whose face was completely obscured, receive a ticket? I received a look that was not too friendly.
I asked what percentage of tickets are rejected and on what basis? He didn’t know.
I asked how often the camera is calibrated. Once a month he said. And what was the date of that cameras last calibration before my ticket? He did not know.
Do you have the certificate of calibration for that ticket? He did not.
Has the officer actually measured the distance shown in the photo or does he just assume that the camera is infallible? The policeman is a trained expert he said.
I went through an entire list of technical questions, for which he had no information, summing it up by confirming that ATS provides the cameras, is responsible to self regulate, audit and verify the integrity of their systems, reviews their own tickets, and presents the case to the court as the state…..to which he answered yes. And you don’t see any conflict of interest? That question was for both he and the judge.
As expected, I lost. I did not expect to win. I just felt I was not going to simply plead guilty and pay the fine. What I took away was most illuminating in the fact that in the city of Mesa at least, the issuing officer does not need be present and no calibration records for that camera need be provided (both of which are the 2 most talked about myths when it comes to fighting a ticket) and that this private corporation who contracts with the city is allowed to represent the state in court, both of which make out financially from the arrangement.