Red Light Camera Images Not Hearsay Evidence

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As much as we hate, fear, and loathe California’s red light cameras, we have accepted that they are a part of our life.

But while we twiddle our thumbs and wait for an anti-camera activist to underwrite a ballot initiative banning the bane of our existence -- like this couple in Houston did -- some people are waging a war against red light cameras in California’s courts.

This week, Carmen Goldsmith sadly lost her traffic appeal in the Second Appellate District after the court ruled that red light cameras images are not hearsay evidence.

Goldsmith was cited for running a red light based on evidence from an automated traffic enforcement system (ATES).

ATES is a computer-based digital imaging system which photographs drivers who enter an intersection after the traffic signal has turned red, or who fail to stop for a red light before turning right.

When sensors detect a vehicle in the intersection in the red light phase, the ATES is programmed to obtain three digital photographs and a 12-second video. The three photographs are a pre-violation photograph showing the vehicle behind the limit line, a post-violation photograph showing the vehicle in the intersection, and a photograph of the vehicle's license plate.

A data bar, which contains the date, time, location, and how long the light had been red when each photograph was taken, is printed on each photograph. The 12-second video shows the approach and progression of the vehicle through the intersection.

The data bar printed on the photographs of Goldsmith's violation indicated that the signal light was in the red light phase for 0.27 seconds when the pre-violation photograph was taken. The post-violation photograph taken 0.66 seconds later showed Goldsmith in the intersection while the signal light was still in the red light phase.

The trial court found Goldsmith guilty and imposed a $436 fine.

Goldsmith claimed that the photographs and video are hearsay, and the prosecution did not establish that the ATES evidence was admissible under the business records or public records exceptions to the hearsay rule.

The Second Appellate District, however, found that the red light camera images were not hearsay evidence, the hearsay rule did not require their exclusion from evidence, and no hearsay exception was necessary to admit the evidence.

We hate to pessimistic when it comes to fighting the good fight, but red light camera appeals based on a hearsay theory aren't worth fighting in California.

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