After two Florida appeals courts came to differing conclusions about the legality of using video cameras to catch motorists failing to stop for red traffic lights, the matter landed before to the Florida Supreme Court. Last week, the justices, without dissent held that red light cameras are legal.
The main point of contention before the court was whether the practice of having the employees of the private vendor that operates red light cameras on behalf of a city or county review the images the cameras capture is legal. After tossing out all the incidents that clearly aren’t red light violations, the vendors forward the images to the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction where the captured violation occurred. Police or a sheriff’s office then decides whether to cite the driver.
In a case that originated in the South Florida, the Lakeland-based Second District Court of Appeal, held that the red-light camera operation in Aventura — and Oldsmar as well — were legal. The Fourth District Court of Appeal, in West Palm Beach, however, held that the intersection cameras in Hollywood weren’t.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that the Legislature clearly meant to authorize the preliminary review of the red-light camera footage by the employees of a private company. In concurring with the Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Charles Canady wrote that the thing that does the most to settle the issue is that “only law enforcement officers and traffic infraction enforcement officers — rather than employees of a vendor — may issue traffic citations” to red light runners, as state law prescribes.
In the end, the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t mean red light cameras aren’t primarily just another way for government to make money.