Good news for those of you who believe we have way too many laws. Orlando’s red light camera ordinance has been struck down. One down, many more to go….Have you seen how many laws are enacted by Congress every year? A zillion, I think. But let’s not blame the Federal government for all that wasted time and money–Florida’s law makers do their fair share of making things more inefficient as well.
Here’s the problem: where is the line crossed when it comes to government agencies coming up with new ways to fine and punish its citizens? The answer to this question comes in a very well written opinion by Judge Recksiedler in the case of the City of Orlando and Lasercraft Inc. v. Michael Udowychenko (Fla. 5th DCA, opinion filed July 6th, 2012, Case No. 5D11-720).
Central Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld Judge Lauten’s lower court ruling here in Orlando. Judge Lauten was correct in striking down Orlando’s red light camera ordinance because the ordinance was preempted by state law. Really, the heart of the matter here is the separation of powers. How many different government agencies may punish we citizens for the exact same behavior?
Back in the day, all sorts of different localities had their own traffic rules, and their own traffic courts to enforce said rules. That system was both confusing and unfair. So, Florida decided to create “uniform” traffic laws throughout the State, thereby abolishing all of our state’s varied municipal courts dedicated to traffic enforcement. These uniform laws are found in Florida Statutes chapter 316. This uniform code left the municipalities virtually empty handed, as 316 prohibits small municipalities from punishing citizens for traffic violations that are already prohibited by the uniform law.
A prime example of this is the act of running a red light. The “uniform” code found in 316 makes it an infraction to run a red light–specifically–a car “facing a steady red signal shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection…until a green indication is shown”. The Orlando red light camera ordinance (section 5.21) basically prohibits the exact same thing, as it states that a vehicle at an intersection “at which a steady red traffic control signal is displayed shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of an intersection…until a green indication is shown on the traffic control signal”. Thus, the “uniform” law in 316 preempts any municipalities laws pertaining to the same conduct.
Judge Recksiedler’s opinion correctly reasons that “the state’s authorization to municipalities to regulate traffic in section 316.008(1)(w) appears to contemplate only unique situations for which a statewide law is lacking or is inadequate. Here the Legislature has mandated that drivers stop at red light signals and has provided the mechanism to enforce that mandate. The imposition of separate and additional penalties for running a red light in a particular municipality does not fall within the specific authority of section 316.008(1)(w)”. id.
Power struggles between different government agencies have played out on numerous levels, just look at the United States Supreme Court’s decision striking down parts of Arizona’s immigration laws. Basically, the same thing happened there, with the Supreme Court ruling that Arizona’s immigration policy was preempted by federal law. Expect to see even more preemption arguments when it comes to our drug laws (marijuana in particular). But, that’s a discussion for another day….
2016 UPDATE: It’s now August of 2016 when I’m checking out my old articles. Rarely do I update these things, but this time, let me say that the court’s position on red light cameras is evolving–and not in the citizen’s direction (shocking, I know). The recent case of State v. Jimenez found that the red light cameras operated by American Traffic Solutions are perfectly legal. 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 11373 (Fla. 3rd DCA July 27, 2016, 3D15-2303 & 2271). Jimenez complained that these cameras were, basically, run by non-law enforcement officers who had unfettered discretion to issue citations. The court rejected this argument because it found that the municipality had policies in place that required law enforcement to review the citations. A different decision was reached in City of Hollywood v. Arem. 154 So. 3d 359 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014). In City of Hollywood, the court dismissed a red light citation because the camera vendor was given unfettered discretion in the issuance of the citations. Now that the Third District Court of Appeals approved of the policies found in Jimenez, I wouldn’t be surprised if many cities re-write their red light camera guidelines to comply the Jimenez policies, and shy away from the unfettered discretion struck down in City of Hollywood. Now, will these cities actually “follow” their own guidelines? Don’t hold your breath. Trust me, they make this legal “on paper”, but I doubt we’ll see any real change in how things are handled.