Thursday, January 17, 2013

Smile -- You're On Red Light Camera

Recently, my friend Tom Donahue asked hot it is that cities can charge you via red light/speed cameras, considering your right to face your accuser. What a GREAT question!

First, you do have a right to face your accuser.  It is found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” (I love how the capitalize that Assistance of Counsel bit. Makes me feel Important.)

It is also in the Constitution of Virginia, Article I, §8:

“That in criminal prosecutions a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, and to call for evidence in his favor…” etc.

One way local governments in Virginia get around this with red light camera charges is by making them “civil” rather than criminal. If it’s a civil fine, instead of a criminal fine – you don’t have that right. Isn’t that neat?

Here’s another neat fact -- because it’s “civil” -- you don’t have a privilege against self-incrimination in a red light case. If you contest it, you may have to testify. You CAN challenge these tickets, but it’s complicated, and it places the burden on YOU to prove you’re NOT guilty of the violation, rather than on the state, where it belongs, to prove that you are.

Andre Hakes
Criminal Defense & Traffic Partner
Tucker Griffin Barnes Charlottesville, VA

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