Do traffic stops related to camera violations violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution? We’re going to find out. As reported by TheNewspaper.com, on April 1st, 2019, the US Supreme Court put to the test the assumption that the owner of the car was in fact the driver at the time of the red light or speed camera violation. The presumption that the owner and driver are one and the same forms the basis that most camera enforcement programs around the country rely on. The Supreme Court case stems from a traffic stop from Kansas three years ago.
The facts of the case are as follows. On April 28, 2016, Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Mehrer ran the plate on a 1995 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck. The driver was not in violation of the law HOWEVER the deputy’s computer noted that the truck’s owner, Charles Glover Jr, had his license revoked. Deputy Mahrer assumed Glover was the person behind the wheel as he conducted the traffic stop.
Other family members may have access to the vehicle besides the owner. A person may lend the car to friends or rent it out to earn a side income.
Last year The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the traffic stop, as well as the presumption that the owner is the driver violated the Fourth Amendment. If the US Supreme Court agrees with Kansas, the precedent would overturn the view of twelve state supreme courts and four federal appellate court. On the other end, state prosecutors want the Kansas ruling overturned, claiming it would impose too great a burden on police to require identification of the driver before conducting a traffic stop. It should be noted that the federal court with jurisdiction over Kansas accepted the presumption that the driver is the owner.
In analyzing the case, attorney Sarah E. Harrington wrote “In a world where an officer must run each plate manually, officers would be unlikely to hit upon even a small fraction of the vehicles registered to unlicensed drivers… Greater and greater deployment of automated license-plate readers (ALPRs) changes the calculus dramatically. Given how saturated some cities already are with ALPRs, vehicles owned by unlicensed drivers would be automatically at risk of seizure throughout significant metropolitan areas, including Washington, DC, and Manhattan.”
Speaking of Manhattan, the New York State Legislature recently passed a massive expansion of the speed camera program in New York City. The new bill will add up to 2,250 speed cameras in 750 school zones in the city over the next three years. The bill also dramatically increases the hours of operation. Under the old provision the cameras were operating from one hour before school starts to one hour after school ends. Now, cameras will operate from 6AM to 10PM every weekday. City DOT issued 616,952 speed camera tickets from September of 2018 to February 2019.
Another huge camera related issue for for New York motorists and vehicle owners relate to cashless tolling violations. A motorist can easily track a NYC speeding camera ticket and choose to pay or contest the violation. Late fees are reasonable as is the time until an unanswered summons goes into judgment. This is not the case with EZ Pass cashless tolling violations. Motorists who do not have EZ Pass have no way of checking to see if they have an outstanding balance or are subject to violations. The EZ Pass website does not permit searches for open tolls by license plate. Then, if a motorist learns there are violations there are no opportunities to review the substance of the claim or demand a hearing. With three unpaid violations triggering a registrations suspension.
After New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the Toll Payer Protection Act, he promised to fix the lack of due process in the cashless tolling system as part of the budget. Not only were toll payer protections removed from the budget, but a congestion pricing scheme that will rely on some form of cashless tolling wound up passing.
As camera enforcement, tolling, and surveillance becomes more prevalent the issues they create must be resolved. We await the Supreme Court’s ruling.