Montgomery red light camera lawsuit moves forward in state court

Updated: Jun. 21, 2017 at 6:36 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A lawsuit against the city of Montgomery and American Traffic Solutions can move ahead in Alabama state court, according to federal appeals judges.

In 2015, a driver, Charles Hunter, was given a ticket for running a red light on April 27 of that year, according to court documents. The ticket resulted from photos taken by a red light camera installed at the intersection of Eastern Boulevard and Plantation Way in Montgomery.

Hunter brought the suit against the city and ATS, the company that installed the cameras, on behalf of himself and others issued tickets because of red light cameras at intersections. The lawsuit was filed in August 2015.

The red light cameras were installed at certain Montgomery intersections in 2008. The cameras take photographs of license plates of drivers who run red lights. The photos are then sent to the Montgomery Police Department, which then determines whether a violation occurred. If there is a violation, MPD mails the tickets to the owners of the vehicles.

Hunter's attorneys are attempting to have the red light cameras declared illegal, have everyone given a ticket based on red light camera photos refunded, and have the state cease mailing out tickets based on the photos, court documents indicate.

Alabama law says a police officer must observe a crime before a ticket can be issued. However, for civil violations, the city can issue tickets even if they're not witnessed by police. In 2009, the state legislature passed an act that stated "A traffic signal violation shall be a civil violation as defined in this act."

The act, Act No. 2009-740, defines a civil violation as follows:

"There is hereby created a non-criminal category of state law called a civil violation created and existing for the sole purpose of carrying out the terms of this act. The penalty for violation of a civil violation shall be the payment of a civil fine, the enforceability of which shall be accomplished through civil action. … [I]n no event shall an adjudication of liability for a civil violation be punishable by a criminal fine or imprisonment."

Hunter's attorneys say the act violates Section 105 of the Alabama Constitution, which states:

"No special, private, or local law, except a law fixing the time of holding courts, shall be enacted in any case which is provided for by a general law, or when the relief sought can be given by any court of this state; and the courts, and not the legislature, shall judge as to whether the matter of said law is provided for by a general law, and as to whether the relief sought can be given by any court; nor shall the legislature indirectly enact any such special, private, or local law by the partial repeal of a general law."

Other concerns about the red light cameras have been raised over the years. In February 2015, we reported on several instances in which people were issued tickets though they hadn't run red lights. The issue was identified as being due to duplicate license plate numbers. Sometimes the state recycles old numbers when issuing new plates. It's a problem state officials have since worked to correct.

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