'Stop on red' called to a halt

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March 20, 2006 // UPDATED 2:05 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Judge rules that red light cameras violate state law

A Hennepin County District Court judge ruled last week that the city’s “stop on red” program violates state law, prompting the city to turn off the cameras that captured images of motorists running through traffic lights.

The initiative relied on cameras to nab motorists running through red lights at 12 intersections in Minneapolis, including four Downtown corners. The city then issued a $142 ticket to the owner of the vehicle.

In an order issued March 14, Judge Mark Wernick ruled that the city’s automated traffic enforcement ordinance is “invalid” because it provides less due process protection than is guaranteed to drivers by the state’s traffic code.

The city’s “stop on red” program, also dubbed “photo cop,” presumed the vehicle’s owner was also the driver caught by the cameras.

Wernick went on to say that automated traffic enforcement systems aren’t inherently illegal, however. Other cities’ programs have upheld challenges because they didn’t violate state law.

Hennepin County Chief Judge Lucy Weiland said that 7,000 pending cases of motorists ticketed by the city will be put “on hold.” Those cases involve people who have either contested the tickets or not yet paid the citation.

People who received a ticket from the city as a result of the “stop on red” camera system after the March 14 ruling will not be required to pay the fine, Weiland. It’s unclear whether people who have already paid their fines will be paid back.

All told, the city had issued 33,000 tickets by the end of February, Weiland said. The program started in July.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota challenged the city ordinance in December on behalf of Daniel Kuhlman, a vehicle owner issued a ticket in August 2005.

The ACLU-MN argued the ordinance violates state law and the U.S. Constitution. In a prepared statement in December, ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson said: “This ordinance presumes that the owner of a vehicle that is photographed is guilty and then puts the burden on the owner to prove that he or she was not the driver. It turns the notion of due process on its head.”

City officials have asked for a stay in the ruling issued March 14, which would give the city until March 21 to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

Minneapolis Police Lt. Reinhardt, the manager of the camera project, credits the initiative with improving public safety on city streets. In its first six months, the “stop on red” program has been linked to a 16 percent drop in traffic accidents, according to the Police Department.