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Police Officer Written Red-Light Tickets Ruled Unconstitutional

One of the oldest traffic laws on Florida’s books has been struck down by a Broward County judge.

Broward County Judge Fred Berman ruled this week that police officers can no longer ticket drivers for running red lights.  Although binding only in his court, the ruling stems from an ongoing legal battle over red light cameras statewide.

Judge Berman said officer-written tickets were unconstitutional because they carry stiffer penalties than when a camera catches a red light violator.

Under Florida law, camera violators mail in a $158 fine and receive no notation on their driver license.  An officer-written citation carries a penalty of $264, plus court costs and a possible three points assessed against the violators driver license.

While police officers ticket drivers that are personally responsible for their actions, camera violations cite the vehicle owner who is held responsible whether they were driving or not.

The state cannot punish people differently for the same crime, Berman ruled.  This violates the equal protection clauses in both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.

“This could be the beginning of the end for red light cameras,” stated Ted Hollander, the Fort Lauderdale attorney defending the violator.  ”Cities are going to have to choose between officers and cameras and will not be allowed to do both.  If it is really about safety, they are going to have to stay with officers issuing tickets because that affects points and driver’s licenses.”

“In our view, Judge Berman did not apply the appropriate standard of review,” stated Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.  “From here, we will be weighing all of our options to challenge his ruling, including an appeal to the circuit court.”

“The cities and court system would be incredibly burdened if every ticketed owner was forced to go to trial to avoid getting points on his or her license,” the state argued before Berman. 

The state had argued that red light cameras serve a public purpose — catching more violators.  Penalties can legally vary because the camera process is different.

Although Judge Berman’s order is binding only in his court, a Miami-Dade judge is already considering the same argument.  Hollander also plans to raise it next week in a similar Palm Beach county case.  No matter the ruling, the red light issue will likely rise through the appellate courts until a unified statewide decision is rendered.

“We have just become aware of Judge Berman’s ruling,” stated Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti.  “Although we respect the Court’s decision, whether or not to appeal is a decision that rests with the Florida Attorney General.” 

Red-light cameras were initially approved by the Legislature in 2010, but lawmakers considered banning them the following session with HB 4087. Representative Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey – the bill sponsor – argued that red light cameras did not improve safety at intersections, but actually caused more rear-end collisions as drivers stopped more quickly in fear of being cited by a camera.

Despite the bill passing the House by a 59-57 vote, the Senate did not take the bill up for consideration.

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