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Added 7-27-04
Sacramento Trial Transcript, Appeal Brief, Article

This case is an example of a defense for a left turn ticket.  The defendant questioned the method by which the length of the yellow light was determined, and also whether there was Due Process. 
The transcript shows the standard testimony that occurs during a Sacramento red light camera trial.  
Please note that the court policies and procedures depicted below apply only to Sacramento tickets and the court in which they're heard.  Other cities and courts may have very different policies and procedures.


The trial transcript was OCR'd from the original document.  At the request of the defendant, names have not been changed. 
Explanatory notes added by the editor are in double square brackets [[  ]].

This transcript may be freely copied and distributed, so long as credit is given to highwayrobbery.net .

Additional Resources:  Article, More Transcripts

Shortly before he died, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gary Webb wrote about Sacramento traffic court and the Bohl case, a successful appeal of a Sacramento ticket.   His Nov. 25, 2004 article, "Red Light, Green Cash," is available by typing "Bohl" into the search box at:  http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/Home .

Also, read the
Moore case, another successful appeal of a Sacramento ticket.

Many other cases and /or transcripts are available - see the Index to Transcripts, Briefs, and Court Decisions.

Trial Transcript

[[ At the request of the defendant, names have not been changed. ]]

 

SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
FOR THE COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO

 JEAN R. BROWN, PRO TEM, DEPARTMENT 83


THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Plaintiff, 
vs. 
ROGER WILLIAM NEILL, Defendant.

No. 03TR041228

COURT TRIAL

TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS

FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2003

APPEARANCES

For the People: OFFICER JOHN McCURRY, California Highway Patrol

For Defendant: ROGER WILLIAM NEILL, Pro Per

-o0o-

 
THE COURT:  Okay. Mr. Neill.  You know how the process works at this point?

MR. NEILL:    Yes, your Honor.

THE COURT:  All right. Are we -- Iím going to ask, do you want to change your plea to no contest and ask for traffic school?

MR. NEILL:    No, thank you, your Honor.

THE COURT:  Okay. I donít think Iím going to get any takers for that. You know that?

Officer, you want to get started again.

OFFICER McCURRY: Yes, your Honor. John McCurry, M-c-C-u-r-r-y, employed by the California Highway Patrol, have been so for the past eight years, currently assigned to the red light camera program for Sacramento County.

Iíll briefly explain my training, experience, as well as the technology of the system. And then Iíll go over the pertinent information for this particular violation.

I've been trained -- trained in the red light camera system by a company called ACS. This is a two-day training course which I attended. This included field and classroom work. And at the completion of the course, I was required to pass a written test, which I did so successfully, certifying me in the theory and operation of the red light camera system.

Page 2:

The system is comprised of a camera, a flash unit, a film canister, onboard computer with memory card, and a set of a two electromagnetic loops, which are embedded into the roadway.

This system is designed so that the first photograph can only be taken when the light is red. Additionally, three elements must exist before a violation can be captured on film:

One, the light must be red for at least two-tenths of a second. Two, the vehicle must be traveling in a prescribed direction over the mag -- electromagnetic loops, being the vehicle has to go forward over the loops. It canít back up and activate the system. Three, the vehicle must be traveling at or above a program minimum speed, which is 12 miles per hour for turns and 15 miles per hour for straight-throughs.

This particular violation is a left-hand turn; therefore, it must be traveling at a minimum of 12 miles per hour.

This system is maintained on a daily basis, excluding weekends and holidays. Maintenance includes checking the internal operations and components of the computer, as well as retrieval of the film.

Once collected, the film is sent to a processing center where itís developed and digitized. The digitized photos are then sent through a T-l line to computer terminals located at the Sacramento County Sheriffís Department, where I work out of.

Page 3:

CHP officers and/or sheriff personnel review all images captured by the camera via the T-1 line onto the computer. When it is in the opinion of the reviewing officer that the violation meets all criteria as I mentioned before, the officer will obtain and assert all pertinent information and attach to the photograph such as the registration -- registered owner of the vehicle and driverís license information. The officer will then send the citation via U.S. Mail to the registered owner of the violator vehicle.

On February 13th, 2003, at 8:27 in the morning, a violation of 21453(c) of the California Vehicle Code was captured on film. The violation occurred at westbound Fair Oaks Boulevard to southbound Watt Avenue. And this is located in the unincorporated county of Sacramento.

A citation was issued to the registered owner of a 1999 Chevy pickup truck bearing the California license plate -- itís a personalized plate -- of R, as in Robert, 0, as in ocean, G, as in George, A, as in Adam, H, as in Henry, and H, as in Henry.

The citation was issued via U.S. Mail on February 19th, 2003, which is within the 15-day requirement as set forth by the California Vehicle Code.

Your Honor, I have three photographs with me here today. They were taken by the camera of this violation. They are premarked Peopleís 1, 2, and 3. Iíd like to show the defendant these photographs and explain them further to the court.

[Pause]

Page 4:

OFFICER McCURRY: Your Honor, Peopleís Exhibit No. 1 is a color photograph.

At this particular intersection, there are three left-hand turn lanes. We have one camera monitoring the first and second left-hand turn lane and then the third camera, which is this particular camera, monitoring the third left-hand turn lane, what we call the No. 1 lane, because it only monitors one lane. But it is a third left ≠hand turn lane in this situation.

The photograph that I have here is a color photograph. It shows the defendantís red pickup truck in the No. 3 left-hand turn lane, clearly behind the crosswalk. There is a superimposed databox on top of the photograph. There are three lines within the box. The very top line indicates the date and time of the violation, which is 8:27 in the morning on February 13th, 2003. The second line, the left-hand side, 1Y3.5, this is the No. 1 loop lane, which is the third left-hand turn lane in this instance. The vehicle was in that lane. And it indicates the light had been yellow for 3.5 seconds before it turned red.

Page 5:

Next to that, R003, this indicates when this photograph was taken, the light had been red for three-tenths of a second, showing the defendantís vehicle still behind the crosswalk, not having entered into the intersection yet. And the third line, left-hand side, 007, this is the seventh violation on this particular film canister. And next to that, 4028, is the location code that we use for this camera at Fair Oaks and Watt. The second photograph that I have here, premarked Peopleís Exhibit No. 2, is a color photograph. It now shows the defendantís vehicle in the intersection. There is a superimposed databox on top. There are three lines. The very top line indicates the same date and time as the first photograph. The second line, left-hand side, 3.73, this is the amount of time that has elapsed between the first photograph and second photograph. So it took the subject 3.73 seconds to get from the first photograph to the second photograph, the location.

Next to that, R040, this indicates, when this photograph was taken, the light had been red for 4.0 seconds, showing the defendantís vehicle in the middle of the intersection, indicating he did not stop prior to the crosswalk for the red light.

The third line, left-hand side, 007, once again, is the seventh violation on this particular film canister. And next to that, V equals 24, this indicates while, in photograph No. 1, when the defendantís vehicle would be still behind the crosswalk, he was traveling 24 miles per hour.

The third photograph that I have here is a color photograph. It is a blowup of Peopleís No. 2. It is used for identification. purposes. It is my opinion that the gentleman seat to my right is the driver of the vehicle in this photograph.

Page 6:

If there are no objections, Iíd like to introduce Peopleís 1, 2, and 3 as evidence in this matter.

MR. NEILL: Your Honor, I have only one objection, and that is that a proper foundation be laid for admission of this evidence and that it conform to the requirements of Vehicle Code Section 21455.7.

THE COURT: Iím sorry. My ears are a little plugged.

MR. NEILL: Oh.

THE COURT:  21 --

MR. NEILL: -- 455.7, which states, ďAt each intersection at which there is an automated enforcement system in operation, the minimum yellow light change interval shall be established in accordance with the traffic manual of the Department of Transportation.Ē

So Iíd just like for a proper foundation to be laid before these --

THE COURT:  So --

MR. NEILL: -- photographs are admitted into evidence.

THE COURT:  What are you claiming is not --

MR. NEILL: It has not been established on the record that the system which took these photographs was being operated with a minimum yellow light change interval as established by the traffic manual of the Department of Transportation, as specified in Vehicle Code Section 21455 .7.

Page 7:

OFFICER McCURRY: Well, your Honor, if youíd like to do that, I can do that. But if he wants me to do that, maybe I should specify to everything that relates to red light camera systems to lay the foundation for this.

THE COURT: Well, heís only raised the one objection. So --

OFFICER McCURRY: Okay. I can address that.  The -- Vehicle Code Section 21455.7 requires that all yellow times -- with an automated traffic system set up that the yellow time be in accordance with the Department of Transportationís traffic -- safety traffic -- traffic safety manual.

This yellow time is in accordance with that manual. The manual itself gives a recommended speed. And I will provide the court this information.

THE COURT: What is the anticipated -- or recommended speed for left-hand turns?

OFFICER McCURRY: The recommended speed for left-hand turns is 3.1. However, the County of Sacramento has set all of their lights, yellow times for its automated system, at 3.5 seconds. However, it could be 3.4999. [Indiscernible] 3 .4.

So the yellow time on this particular violation greatly exceeds the recommended yellow time set forth by Caltrans, which is the California Vehicle Code mandates.

THE COURT: Okay. Do you have those documents?

OFFICER McCURRY: Yes.

[Off-record conversation]

THE COURT: Is that for the defendant? Is that for me? Is that for the court?

Page 8:

[Off-record conversation]

[Pause]

OFFICER McCURRY: Your Honor, what Iím presenting to you is a portion of the Department of Transportation --

THE COURT: Show then to the defendant first.

OFFICER McCURRY: Oh. -- the Department of Transportation safety traffic manual.  Itís dated -- itís the most current edition, November 2002. It goes into Section 9-04.5. It discusses yellow change intervals.

Additionally, I have a letter from the senior civil engineer of signal operations for the Public Works, the County of Sacramento, also addressing yellow times and, specifically, addressing left-hand turns in the Caltrans traffic manual.  [[Reproduced below, and later admitted as People's Exhibit 7.]]

MR. NEILL: This is very close, your Honor.

THE COURT: Mr. Neill, I will be having copies of that made, so you will have a copy to -- to look at.

MR. NEILL: Oh, that would be fine. I only wanted to point out that thereís a table, 9-1, thatís specified in this section regarding yellow interval times that is not included.

OFFICER McCURRY: Right.

MR. NEILL: And the table documents the actual mathematical formula to determine minimum yellow --

OFFICER McCURRY: Right. Thereís a mathematical formula you put in, the approach speed of the vehicle, and additionally, like braking distance, and you come up with a set time.

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However, it gives you an -- an approach speed. It tells you what it is. I can actually work up the mathematical formula for the defendant at this particular intersection if youíd like me to. It would probably take about five minutes. I could probably draw it all up there.

MR. NEILL: I also have a copy of the table, which I got off-line. I donít know if itís the latest.

OFFICER McCURRY: If he got it off - line, your Honor, it is the most latest information. Itís the 2002.

THE COURT: Do you --

MR. NEILL: Which --

THE COURT: -- want that admitted into evidence as well?

MR. NEILL: As long as itís -- yes, that would be fine.

THE COURT: Okay. Would you hand it to the officer.

[Pause]

OFFICER McCURRY: Yes, your Honor. Itís the mathematical formula on how they derive at the numbers.

THE COURT: Okay. So weíre going to have Peopleís Exhibits --

THE CLERK: 6 and. 7.

THE COURT: -- 6 and 7 and Defendantís Exhibit --

THE CLERK: A.

THE COURT: -- A.

MR. NEILL: And with that, your Honor, I have no further objection to the admission of the photographs.

Page 10:

THE COURT:  Okay. Then I will admit them.

[Peopleís Exhibit Nos. 1, 2 and 3 admitted into evidence]

OFFICER McCURRY: Your Honor, as I had mentioned earlier, this system is maintained on a daily basis, excluding weekends and holidays.

We have field technicians that go out to the cameras and ensure they are functioning properly. When they go out there, they will check the cameras and they will fill out a field service and inspection log and notate the results on these logs.

I have two such logs with me today. They are premarked Peopleís 4 and 5, Iíd like to show the defendant these photograph -- or, excuse me -- these logs and explain them further to the court.

Your Honor, People's Exhibit No. 4 is a field service and inspection log dated February 12th, 2003. Itís with camera location code 4028. Itís the same camera in question. If you were looking at the photographs, it would be the same location code, Fair Oaks and Watt Avenue.

The technician that filled this out is a Dustin Thomas. He signed and dated the inspection log. He began the service at 14:20 hours and completed the service at 14:24 hours. He indicated the system was functioning properly and there were no problems with it.

Page 11:

What I have here is Peopleís Exhibit No. 5. This is a field service and inspection log dated February 13th, 2003, for camera location code 4028, the same -- the same camera in question. The technician that filled this out is a Dustin Thomas. He signed and dated it. He began the service at 11:12 hours and completed it at 11:18 hours. He indicated the system was functioning properly and there were no problems with it.

Your Honor, if there are no objections, Iíd like to introduce Peopleís 4 and 5 as evidence in this matter that this system was functioning properly at the time of the violation.

MR. NEILL:    Your Honor, I donít see any indication on these forms that this certifies in any way that the traffic signal light itself is operating properly or has been tested. However, for the purpose of documenting that the automated enforcement system is functioning properly and was checked, I have no objection.

THE COURT:  Okay. Theyíre so admitted.

[Peopleís Exhibit Nos. 4, 5 admitted into evidence]

THE COURT:   Mr. Neill, do you have any objection to the admission of Peopleís 6 and 7?

MR. NEILL:    No, your Honor.

THE COURT:  Okay. Officer McCurry, do you have any objection to admission of Defense Exhibit A?

OFFICER McCURRY: No, your Honor.

THE COURT:  All exhibits are so entered then.

[Peopleís Exhibit Nos. 6, 7, Defendantís Exhibit A admitted into evidence]

Page 12:

OFFICER McCURRY: I have no further [sic], your Honor.

THE COURT:  I'm sorry, sir?

OFFICER McCURRY: I have no further [sic].

THE COURT:  Nothing further. Okay.

Okay. Okay. Mr. Neill, youíre up. Do you have any questions for the officer or --

MR. NEILL:    Yes, I do, your Honor, just a very few questions. And Iíd like to say in advance what it is Iím trying to show by these -- this series of just a few questions.

Iím trying to show that Vehicle Code Section 21453(c), the section that I am charged with violating, expressly specifies that the intentions of the driver at the moment of entering the intersection is an element of this offense and that demonstrating the driverís intention at the moment prior to entering the intersection is not conducive to proof by photographic evidence.

So with that in mind, I would just ask, you are a law enforcement officer, Officer McCurry?

OFFICER McCURRY: Yes, I am.

MR. NEILL:    And by what government agency are you employed?

OFFICER McCURRY: The California Highway Patrol.

MR. NEILL:    And how long have you been -- been employed, by that agency in the capacity of a law enforcement officer?

OFFICER McCURRY: Eight years.

Page 13:

MR. NEILL:    Are your present duties exclusively in the area of automated enforcement systems or do you also do patrol work?

OFFICER McCURRY: I -- my primary function is the red light camera system; however, I do patrol at times.

MR. NEILL:    You do. And have -- have you done patrol duties in the field in the past during your eight years?

OFFICER McCURRY: Seven years prior.

MR. NEILL:    Have you ever issued a citation for a red light or a red arrow violation before while on patrol at the intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue?

THE COURT:  Iím going to disallow that question unless you can explain to me why thatís relevant.

MR. NEILL:    Iím trying to test the officerís familiarity with this particular intersection thatís involved in this violation.

THE COURT:  That question doesnít do that.

MR. NEILL:    Okay. Iíll withdraw the question then, your Honor.

THE COURT:  Okay.

MR. NEILL:    Are you generally familiar with the intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue?

OFFICER McCURRY: Yes, I am.

MR. NEILL:    Iíd like to show the witness an overhead photograph of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue, your Honor --

THE COURT:  Okay.

Page 14:

MR. NEILL:    -- for the purpose of just the general familiarity with the lanes and where the signal locations are.

THE COURT:  All right. That will be Peo -- or Defense Exhibit B.

[Defendantís Exhibit B marked for identification]

MR. NEILL: Yes, your Honor.

[Pause]

[Off-record conversation]

MR. NEILL:    Does that seem, generally, an accurate overhead portrayal of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue? Where -- this would be Fair Oaks Boulevard approaching westbound toward. [Indicating.] The west, it angles in. And thereís three left turn lanes for turning left onto southbound Watt Avenue.

OFFICER McCURRY: Your Honor, this could be the intersection. It looks similar. This is a -- this photograph is a -- as you see, itís extremely high -- bless you. Itís extremely high In the air.

Truthfully, it -- it could be any intersection that has the same kind of setup. I donít know specifically if it is that intersection or not. Just from the -- the vantage point of this, itís not close enough to identify landmarks.

THE COURT:  Okay.

Page 15:

MR. NEILL:    Your Honor, by way of identifying the photograph, I can swear under penalty of perjury that I obtained this photograph from a commercial source. And --

THE COURT: Officer McCurry, would you bring it up, please.

OFFICER McCURRY:  Sure. [Pause]

THE COURT:  For what purpose do you want to have this photograph admitted, sir?

MR. NEILL:    To expedite the description of this intersection and the number of lanes and in which directions those lanes of traffic are traveling and where these precise signal lights are located at the intersection and for the purpose of visually demonstrating how the intentions of the driver it one of those left turn lanes is significant to this case in -- in --

THE COURT:  Well, Iím going to have to agree with the officer. For those purposes, this photograph is not adequate.

MR. NEILL:    Okay. Well, I can do it --

THE COURT:  For giving a general idea of the area, you know, I -- Iím happy to take your word for it. But this isnít going to be detailed enough to provide that kind of information. I think the officer has testified that he is generally familiar with the intersection. And --

MR. NEILL:    Very well, your Honor.

THE COURT:  -- thatís going to have to do. Iím sorry.

Page 16:

MR. NEILL:    That's no problem. I withdraw the photograph.

THE COURT:  No. We have to keep it for our records.

MR. NEILL: Oh, okay. Very good.

Letís -- using the officerís photographs then from the automatic enforcement system, is it true that -- that my vehicle that Iím driving is traveling west -- you know, westerly -- a westbound direction on Fair Oaks Boulevard and itís in one pf three left turn lanes westbound on Fair Oaks Boulevard that is attempting to turn left onto southbound Watt avenue?

OFFICER McCURRY: That is correct.

MR. NEILL:    And of those three lanes, is my vehicle -- if we could assign numbers to those lanes. The left most lane on Fair Oaks Boulevard turning left, call it No. 1, the center lane, No. 2, and the right-hand most left turn lane, No. 3. Would you say I was -- my vehicle was in lane No. 3?

OFFICER McCURRY:  Yes.

MR. NEILL:    Okay.

THE COURT:  Mr. Neill, the officerís already testified to all of this. You need to move on to new ground, please.

MR. NEILL:    Okay. Well, could you please read then Section -- Vehicle Code Section 21453(c), which I am charged with violating?

OFFICER McCURRY:   Read it aloud?

MR. NEILL:    Right. Do you have it with you?

Page 17:

OFFICER McCURRY:  Sure.

THE COURT: I -- I -- why?

MR. NEILL:    For the purpose of entering it into the record, the -- the precise Vehicle Code which I am charged with violating.

THE COURT:  Do you not have a copy of it, sir?

MR. NEILL:    Yes, I do.

THE COURT:  Then all three of us have copies of it.

MR. NEILL:    Okay. Very well, your Honor. Iím sorry.

A copy of section -- Vehicle Code Section 21453 states, and I quote, ďA driver facing a steady red arrow signal shall not enter the intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow and, unless entering the intersection to make a movement permitted by another signal, shall stop at a clearly marked limit line,Ē and then it goes on to describe limit line exceptions.

As you read this violation, Officer, must a driver in the No. 3 left-hand turn lane westbound on Watt Avenue -- or westbound on Fair Oaks Avenue [sic] -- excuse me -- stop at a red arrow if their intention at that time is -- and there is a solid green signal to proceed through on Fair Oaks Boulevard, through the intersection, cannot that driver proceed through the intersection, obeying the other traffic signal?

Page 18:

Isnít that what this Vehicle Code section is saying, that itís not a violation of this section if the driver intended to make a movement permitted by another signal at that same intersection?

OFFICER McCURRY: Thatís actually correct. Thatís a specific violation. If you were to make a left-hand turn against the red, youíd be in violation of that section. However, if you continued straight from that -- that lane, youíd be in violation of a different section, improper lane usage. But --

THE COURT:  Mr. -- Mr. Neill, is it your contention that you did not make a left-hand turn?

MR. NEILL:    It is my contention, your Honor, that it was my intention --

THE COURT:  Iím not asking your intention, sir. Iím asking, are you contending that you did not make a left-hand turn?

MR. NEILL:    When I crossed the red arrow signal, I intended to change lanes and proceed straight through the solid green light along with the traffic that was proceeding westbound on Fair Oaks Boulevard.

THE COURT:  I understand what you have testified to. Are you -- you have not answered my question, however. Are you stating that you did not make a left-hand turn at the intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue?

MR. NEILL:    No, Iím not saying that.

THE COURT:  Very well.

Page 19:

MR. NEILL:    The second photograph shows that I completed a left turn. The point that Iím trying to make, your Honor, is that at the time I penetrated the limit line against a red arrow, there was a solid green signal to proceed straight on -- across the intersection and on --and continue on down Fair Oaks Boulevard instead of turning left. That was my intention at the moment that I -- that I penetrated the limit line through the red arrow.

But Section 21453(c) of the Vehicle Code says that as long as my intention, when I crossed the limit line, was to perform a maneuver permitted by another signal at the intersection, then I have not committed a violation at that point in time. And --

THE COURT:  I understand your argument. Itís very creative. Do you have anything else?

MR. NEILL:    Yes.

[Pause]

MR. NEILL:    Okay. The second point that I wish to make -- and we touched on it with the introduction of the photographs -- is that the automated enforcement system that is being operated at Watt and Fair Oaks Boulevard is not, in fact, operating in conformance with the minimum yellow change interval time as established by law.

THE COURT:  And how is that?

MR. NEILL:    By referring to the mathematical equation, your Honor, which was introduced in Table 9-1, laying the foundation for the admission of the photographs --

THE COURT:  Did you read Peopleís Exhibit 7? A copy was given to you, sir.  [[Reproduced below.]]

Page 20:

MR. NEILL:    Is this the letter from the County of Sacramento?

THE COURT:  Yes it is.

MR. NEILL:    No, I havenít read that, your Honor.

THE COURT:  You need to read that, sir. Weíll give you a minute to do that.

MR. NEILL:    Okay.

[Pause]

[Off the record]

MR. NEILL:  I donít -- I donít really understand. I would understand if -- if the field engineer is stating that the yellow times at all Sacramento County intersections exceed -- exceed the yellow time specified by the Caltrans traffic manual. They certainly do. They exceed them in the wrong direction, is what Iím trying to say.

THE COURT:  That theyíre too long?

MR. NEILL:    No. That theyíre too short.

THE COURT:  No. This says that the countyís standard yellow time for left turn approaches are 3.5 seconds, which meets the requirements for the approach speeds up to 35 miles per hour, greatly exceeds the Caltrans District 3, 3.1 seconds yellow for left turns based on approach speeds of 18 to 25 miles per hour.

Page 21:

MR. NEILL:    On westbound Fair Oaks Boulevard, any speeds up to 40 miles per hour are lawful, left turn or otherwise. And 3.5 seconds does -- is not enough seconds of yellow time to conform with the Caltrans traffic manual for an area where the lawful speed is 40 miles per hour. In which case, itís 3.9 seconds.

THE COURT:  So it's your argument that because the maximum posted speed limit on Fair Oaks Boulevard in that area is 40 miles per hour, you should be able to go --you should be able to approach a left-hand turn at 40 miles per hour?

MR. NEILL:    Any yellow time, your Honor, that is less than that will, in fact, establish whatís called a dilemma zone, where a driver in the dilemma zone has no lawful alternative, no lawful option available to them.

Now, if -- if the County of Sacramento wanted to make those yellow times 5 seconds, there would be no dilemma zone. In fact, at 40 miles per hour, as on Watt Avenue, at 4.0 seconds, there is no dilemma zone.

But as soon as you start making them smaller and you get down to 3.5 seconds or less, youíre creating a dilemma zone, where drivers traveling at a lawful speed can be caught on a section of the roadway which leaves them no legal option. When the light turns yellow, they are doomed to break the law.

And I have a report on that topic from the Institute of -- for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University, which Iíd be happy to introduce into evidence.

THE COURT:  You need to show it to the officer first.

OFFICER McCURRY: And what is this?

Page 22:

MR. NEILL:    Itís a research study thatís published by the North Carolina State University Institute for Transportation Research and Education. It was written by a professional engineer and a senior research associate, along with some others. And itís a discussion on yellow time calculations and red light enforcement tolerances that are applicable to this -- this case.

If it were not for this 3.5 seconds, that would not be relevant, your Honor. If Sacramento County said 4.0 seconds or 4.5 seconds, there would be no dilemma zone and this would not be relevant

Itís only when they try to want to reduce the yellow time interval to below 4.0 seconds for a 40-mile-per-hour zone like Watt -- like Fair Oaks Boulevard that they create dilemma zones, where drivers are left with no lawful option if they happen to be in that dilemma zone when the light turns yellow.

THE COURT:  Officer McCurry, do you have any objection to the --

OFFICER McCURRY: Your Honor, this appears to be an opinion by someone who is not a -- a government official that is in charge of this program.

Additionally, I donít know where this -- or the defendant received this information. I donít think itís a public document; so, therefore, I canít -- Iím not saying that the subject would give me something that he has changed or made up. However, I donít know of its origination. Therefore, I would not -- I would request that it be denied being entered into evidence.

Page 23:

THE COURT: Okay. Bring it up to me.

[Pause]

THE COURT:  Would you mark this -- where are we up to?

THE CLERK:  C.

THE COURT:  C on Defendantís.

[Defendantís Exhibit C marked for identification]

[Pause]

THE COURT:  Mr. Neill, I understand your argument. And, again, itís another very creative argument except for one small problem; and that is, Vehicle Code Section 22350, which is the basic speed law which says you should not be driving in excess --

[Off-record conversation]

THE COURT:  -- at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent.

And youíre trying to make the argument, therefore, that it is reasonable and prudent to drive 40 miles an hour approaching a left-hand turn light. And youíre going to have to convince me that thatís reasonable and prudent, because it seems fast to me.

MR. NEILL:    Well --

THE COURT:  And I'm -- Iím open to the argument. Iím just saying, you know, youíre going to have to convince me.

Page 24:

MR. NEILL:    Itís lawful. And Iím aware that -- because I drive through this intersection every day and have for four years. There are times when it is not possible to drive 40 miles per hour in one of those left turn lanes. And, certainly, by the time you get to the intersection, even though it is a very large intersection, allowing ample room in which to turn -- I mean, I believe I could make a 39-mile-per-hour left-turn lane [sic] on that particular intersection, your Honor. Just because of its hugeness, itís usually not reasonable and prudent to do so.

But this, of course -- because the yellow times have been shortened, this works to the disadvantage of the driver who is approaching this and -- and, basically, because of reasonableness, is forced to slow down. So that if that driver makes the wrong decision when that light turns yellow -- you know, whereas, at 40 miles per hour, they could get into the intersection on the yellow and --and not even trigger the automated enforcement system, but they are restricted by reasonableness, as you say, that prevents them from -- from that being a correct decision.

In other words, thatís a wrong decision, which they have to make at the instant the yellow light comes on. If they make that incorrect -- incorrect, instantaneous decision, they will -- they will not make it to the intersection before the light turns red. Their only hope is to try and stop the car, regardless of what speed --lawful speed theyíre going prior to the intersection and regardless of what risks that may entail.

Page 25:

THE COURT:  Okay. Officer McCurry, do you have any rebuttal?

OFFICER McCURRY: About this specific point?

THE COURT:  Yes.

OFFICER McCURRY: The Vehicle Code states that you have to -- you must follow -- for yellow times, follow the Caltrans safety traffic manual. The safety traffic manual says yellow times are determined upon approach speeds. Nowhere does it say that itís determined upon posted speed limits, prima facie, or maximum speed limits. Itís based upon approach speeds.

Now, that may be vague and itís -- and itís what they listed. However, the approach speeds are determined by the civil engineers, which work for the State of California, which are subsequently liable for any sort of lawsuits that may come about. So when they make these determinations, theyíre making it as far as being safe for the public, which our whole system is designed to deter aggressive driving behaviors.

And the approach speed, as determined by Caltrans, District -- I think itís District 3, for left-hand turns, they determined the approach safe speed to be 18 to 25 miles for a left-hand turn.

Now, could he make a left-hand turn at 40 miles per hour doing that? Yes, he could. That would be unsafe. And it would not be prudent for a person to do something like that. Just as going down Watt Avenue, maybe, during the day and thereís no traffic, on a Sunday, 50 miles per hour may be a safe speed; however, it doesnít affect the yellow time of 4.0 seconds.

Page 26:

What weíre talking about here is the approach speed. And the approach speed has been determined by civil engineers with safety in mind. And theyíve determined that the safe speed be 18 to 25, in which our yellow time actually exceeds their recommendation.

THE COURT:  Okay. Any other theories, Mr. Neill?

MR. NEILL:    Just one more, your Honor. And -- and I did have one question that I forgot to ask, just one --

THE COURT:  Okay.

MR. NEILL:    -- of the officer regarding maintenance of the signals.

Are the technicians that respond to you -- or under your auspices, as you are the government agency thatís operating this system. Do -- the technicians, under your auspices, are they cape -- are they -- is it within their authority to adjust tolerances or other technical settings with the traffic signals themselves?

OFFICER McCURRY: With our --

MR. NEILL:    Can they open up a traffic signal and adjust yellow times or --

OFFICER McCURRY: The traffic signal or the camera?

MR. NEILL:    The signal.

OFFICER McCURRY: No. Theyíre --

MR. NEILL:    Do your technicians maintain the traffic --

Page 27:

THE COURT:  You mean the camera system technicians?

MR. NEILL:    Right. Do they --

OFFICER McCURRY: No.

MR. NEILL:    -- maintain the traffic signal?

OFFICER McCURRY: No. Theyíre separate entities. The County of Sacramento maintains the signal system.

MR. NEILL:    Okay.

THE COURT:  And you said you had one more theory.

MR. NEILL:    One more theory, your Honor, and Iíll try to make it as brief as possible.

THE COURT:  That would be good.

MR. NEILL:    But itís the most creative, if possible.

I maintain that the manner in which these automated enforcement systems are being operated in Sacramento County creates a classification which treats persons situated -- which treats persons similarly situated in an unequal manner, thereby, depriving them of equal protection of the law.

Page 28:

That theory is founded on the equation thatís listed in Table 9-1 of the Caltrans traffic manual. That mathematical equation, the very first parameter in determining yellow time is human reaction time. And that formula merely specifies that all of us human beings and citizens of California have a reaction time of 1.0 seconds. There are published studies which show there is a wide variation in human reaction time. Perhaps, this officer has had some training in human reaction time.

It varies widely among human beings. And, yet, this system creates a classification whereby there are two groups of human beings: those that can -- through physical dexterity, youth, and prowess, mental prowess, they can achieve the 1.0 second reaction time, human reaction time, and those of us who can-not, your Honor, despite -- try as we might, we are limited in -- in the group that cannot meet the 1.0 second reaction time by our physical characteristics.

And, thereby, we have a situation here, because the county chooses to reduce the yellow time rather than get rid of the dilemma zone entirely --

THE COURT:  Mr. Neill, are you sure you want to make this argument on the record?

MR. NEILL:    Yes. Yes.

THE COURT:  Okay.

MR. NEILL:    And, particularly, based on the --just the few cases I saw here this morning. Each one of them is a violation -- was a violation -- an alleged violation of Section 21453(c) --

THE COURT:  So youíre saying that you cannot meet the 1.0 second reaction time used by Caltrans in setting the length of --

MR. NEILL:    And this sets me apart from those who can, your Honor, and makes me a lawbreaker. Whereas, those who can meet the 1.0 second reaction time are not. And that deprives me of equal protection of the laws.

Page 29:

THE COURT:  What I think it should deprive you of is a driverís license, sir, because I believe youíve just testified youíre not competent to drive.

MR. NEILL:    Ah, no. No. Actually, the 1.0 second reaction time is for a very youthful human being at peak, at peak efficiency.

THE COURT:  Officer McCurry.

OFFICER McCURRY: Yes, your Honor. The 1.0 second reaction time actually exceeds the average personís reaction time as being a time distance.

And a braking expert for the California Highway Patrol, working mathematical equations for traffic accidents, the average time we use for reaction time is 0.75 seconds. Caltrans has the reaction time set at 1.00 seconds, which exceeds -- exceeds the average time that we use for determining our figures.

Additionally, if the defendant canít meet -- even meet these times, I feel that he is more dangerous to our society as a driver and is not -- the -- the point that heís saying that weíre not giving him equal protection, a drive -- a driverís license is a privilege to go out there and drive.

Page 30:

If he just canít have normal reaction time or even close to normal reaction times and if he knows that he doesnít have close normal reaction times, you should take that into consideration. I -- I think heís a dangerous driver if he canít even be close to normal reaction times and even take that into consideration. And, possibly, he should not have a driverís license.

MR. NEILL:    Well, that would conflict with the authorities in the report thatís been admitted into evidence about the dilemma zone.

THE COURT:  It has not been admitted into evidence. I have not ruled on that. And it will not be admitted into evidence because it has not been properly authenticated.

MR. NEILL:    Well, will the record show that it was not admitted into evidence?

THE COURT:  I just took care of that.

MR. NEILL:    Thank you, your Honor.

THE COURT:  Anything else, Mr. Neill?

MR. NEILL:    That is all, your Honor.

THE COURT:  Very well. Despite the best and most creative arguments I have ever heard, I am going to find you guilty of violating Vehicle Code 21453 (c). It is a mandatory $100 fine, plus penalty assessment.

If youíll have a seat, one of the clerks will escort you over to the fineís room, assuming it is still open.

THE CLERK:  Itís open. And the [indiscernible] is 281.

THE COURT:  Yes, the total is 281.

[Off-record conversation]

[Whereupon, the proceedings were concluded.]

Trial Exhibits

People's 7:




[[ At the request of the defendant, names have not been changed. ]]




 Appeal

The defendant filed an opening brief, below.
The People did not file a reply brief, nor did they appear at the oral arguments held on Jan. 16, 2004, while the defendant did.
The Appellate Division's decision was issued on Jan. 20.  It said only:  "The judgment is AFFIRMED." 
There was no explanation as to why.

Case No. 03TR041228

In the Appellate Division, Superior Court of the State of California

County of Sacramento

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA,
Plaintiff/Respondent

v.

ROGER NEILL,
Defendant/Appellant

Defendant/Appellantís Opening Brief

Defendant/Appellant In Pro Per

Carmichael, CA 95608



Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Index of Authorities
Statement of the Case
Issues Presented
Statement of Facts
Summary of Argument
Argument
Conclusion


Index of Authorities

Cases Page
People v. Campbell (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th Supp.1
People v. Mom (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 1217
Halbertís Lumber, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1233
People v. Oppenheimer (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d Supp.4
Gossman v. Gossman, 52 Cal.App.2d 184, 194 [126 P.2d 178]
People v. Myers (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 305
City of Sacramento v. Drew (1989) 207 Cal.App3d 1287, 1297 [255 Cal.Rptr. 704]


Statutes

Vehicle Code ß 21453 (c)
Vehicle Code ß 21455.7
Penal Code ß 15
Penal Code ß 16
Penal Code ß 19.6
Penal Code ß 19.7
Penal Code ß 1096
Evidence Code ß 352
Code of Civil Procedure ß 1021.5


Statement of the Case

This is a Red Light Camera case. The Defendant/Appellant is asking the Appellate Court to interpret the meaning of a statute, and to answer the question whether or not the Trial Court exceeded the bounds of judicial discretion.

Defendant/Appellant was cited by First Class Mail for an alleged violation of California Vehicle Code (hereafter Vehicle Code) ß 21453 (c)óan infractionóbased solely upon photographs collected by an Automated Enforcement System (hereafter AES). A private sector contractor operates and maintains the AES cameras under contract, and transmits the photographic evidence collected to government officials. These AES camera systems are relatively new additions to the toolkits of both traffic signal engineers and law enforcement professionals, but have already garnered a widespread reputation as infallible proof of guilt. Such is the case even though the photos do not show the traffic signals at all. Rather, the AES utilizes its sophisticated Ďdual-shutterí lenses to photograph the driver in the intersection and a digital data-display (which contains the alleged incriminating information). The time duration (Yellow Interval) of each traffic signalís amber light is set by a Sacramento County Public Works Agency and is disputed herein.

The hurried pace of the Traffic Court, laboring under heavy caseloads, often precludes lengthy, deliberative trials. The burden of considering in detail all the principles of traffic signal engineering, state-of-the-art automated camera technology and complex government contract provisions can simply become incompatible with rigorous application of due process for every infraction defendant. Defendant/Appellant actually supports the Red Light Cameraís role in law enforcement. But the State must use the technology responsibly, fairly, in conformity with accepted traffic signal standards and in conformity with the law.

Increasing the left turn traffic signal Yellow Interval to an amount of time equal to the Yellow Interval already available to through traffic, as based on the posted speed limit, is likely to result in fewer Red Light Camera violations for left turns. That, in turn, would lead to less revenue for local jurisdictions in California flowing from Red Light Cameras already operating at many left turn locations. But fewer violations is precisely what the Legislature intended in passing the statute in question here, Vehicle Code ß 21455.7. And the Courtís responsibility is to uphold such Legislative intent, interpreting it as necessary, and giving effect to its meaning.

Issues Presented

Defendant/Appellant raises the following issues on appeal:

  1. For intersections in California at which an AES (Red Light Camera) is operating, Vehicle Code ß 21455.7 requires that the minimum Yellow Interval time for traffic signals conform to a formula given in the California Department of Transportation Traffic Manual (hereafter CADOT Traffic Manual). One of the parameters in that formula is vehicle approach speed. In this case, the Peopleís interpretation clashes with the Defendantís interpretation of just which speed should be used in that formula. Is it the posted speed limit, as Defendant/Appellant urges? Or is it an arbitrary and lesser speed deemed by Sacramento County officials to be the maximum safe and prudent speed for left turn approaches, as the People insist? The Peopleís witness at trial offered a letter, from a Senior Civil Engineer with the County of Sacramento Public Works Agency to a Supervisor of the Red Light Photo Enforcement Program, as proof. It was admitted into evidence by the Trial Court. Defendant contends that the correct approach speed to use is the posted speed limit and offered a learned treatise at trial in support of that contention. The Trial Court excluded Defendantís evidence from admission and from any consideration at trial. Defendant/Appellantís interpretation results in an increased Yellow Interval for left turn traffic to reach the intersection prior to the onset of the red light and, in this case, no violation. Is the AES (Red Light Camera) at the intersection in question being operated in accordance with requirements of Vehicle Code ß 21455.7?
  2. Defendant was charged with an infraction. The California Penal Code (hereafter Penal Code) states that all provisions of law relating to misdemeanors shall apply to infractions, except for jury trials and appointment of defense counsel, which are not available for infraction defendants. Further, the Penal Code provides that a defendant in a criminal action is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the Trial Court excluded Defendantís evidence from any consideration by the trier-of-fact, interposed objections and made statements from the Bench inconsistent with expansive due process. Did the Trial Court exceed the bounds of judicial discretion?

Statement of Facts

On the morning of February 13, 2003, at approximately 8:27 a.m., in Sacramento County, California, Defendant/Appellant made a left turn, from one of three left turn lanes along westbound Fair Oaks Boulevard onto southbound Watt Avenue, in his 1999 Chevy S-10 pickup truck. A dual-shuttered camera, comprising the main component of an AES (Red Light Camera), was installed at that intersection. That system automatically took four snapshot photographs, two of the intersection (at separate times) and two close-ups, one of Defendant/Appellantís front license plate on the vehicle and one of the driver of the vehicle (admittedly Defendant/Appellant). It had rained earlier that morning and the roadway was wet.

Subsequently, on or about February 19, 2003, six days after the alleged offense, a California Highway Patrol Automated Enforcement Traffic Violation was issued to the Defendant/Appellant by First Class Mail. The Citation, numbered 0016672CA, contained reprints of the four snapshot photographs mentioned earlier, and commanded Defendant/Appellant to appear before the Sacramento County Superior Court, Carol Miller Justice Center, on March 20, 2003.

Defendant/Appellant appeared on March 20, 2003, in Department 81 of the Superior Court, was duly advised of his rights as an infraction defendant, and entered a plea of Not Guilty. After a brief plea-bargaining session between Defendant and a representative of the Sacramento County District Attorneyís Office, a trial date was set.

The case came on regularly for court trial on May 2, 2003, before the Honorable , Pro Tem Judge, presiding. The trial was scheduled on the 10:00 a.m. Calendar, but was the last trial held prior to the lunch adjournment, concluding shortly after 12:00 noon. At the trial, Defendant/Appellant was found Guilty, and assessed a fine and penalty totaling $281.00. The Defendant/Appellant filed a timely Notice of Appeal and Proposed Statement on Appeal that included an Official Reporterís Transcript Of Proceedings. This appeal ensued.

Summary of Argument

The Minimum Yellow Interval Was Too Short, By Signal Engineering Standards.

Under California Vehicle Code ß 21455.7, the minimum time duration of the amber, or yellow, light on certain traffic signals is established by a mathematical formula contained in the CADOT Traffic Manual. That time duration is referred to as the Yellow Interval. The statute establishes a minimum Yellow Interval only for intersections at which an automated enforcement system (Red Light Camera) is in operation. Evidence from the AES itself, admitted at trial, establishes that the Yellow Interval available to Defendant as he made an approach for a left turn from westbound Fair Oaks Boulevard onto southbound Watt Avenue was 3.5 seconds. That corresponds to an approach speed in the Traffic Manualís formula of 35 miles per hour. But the posted speed limit on westbound Fair Oaks Boulevard is 40 miles per hour. Using the posted speed limit in the Traffic Manual formula yields a minimum Yellow Interval time of 3.93 seconds. Had Defendant had 3.93 seconds of Yellow Interval time available on the approach to enter the intersection, no red-light violation would have occurred. Defendant/Appellant contends that due to arbitrarily diminished Yellow Intervals for left turn traffic signals, the AES (Red Light Camera) operating at the intersection in question is an unlawful implementation. Foundationally, the Peopleís case is fatally undermined thereby. Defendant/Appellantís conviction should be reversed.

The Infraction Defendant Did Not Get A Fair Trial.

Concurrently, Defendant/Appellant contends that the trial held in this matter was flawed with regard to due process for infraction defendants. Conceding that infraction defendants have no rights to a jury trial or to have defense counsel appointed, Defendant/Appellant maintains that residual due process rights flowing from the U.S. and California Constitutions, routinely applied for misdemeanor defendants, were denied to the Defendant in this case. Specifically, the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt placed squarely upon the prosecution, the right to present evidence believed exculpatory and to have such evidence considered by the trier-of-fact, as well as the right to fully cross-examine any witness brought against a defendant, are due process elements that remain fully applicable to infraction defendants, but were infringed in this case. As a result of the Trial Court exceeding the bounds of judicial discretion, the Appellate Division should grant a new trial.

Argument

 

A. For Defendantís conviction to stand, the left turn traffic signalís Yellow Interval must conform with the requirements of California Vehicle Code ß 21455.7, but it does not.

California Vehicle Code (hereafter Vehicle Code) ß 21455.7 states:

"At each intersection at which there is an automated enforcement system in operation, the minimum yellow light change interval shall be established in accordance with the traffic manual of the Department of Transportation."

The statute was signed into law in October 2001, to become effective on January 1, 2002.

Defendant/Appellant contends that, due to arbitrarily diminished Yellow Interval settings for left turn traffic signals in Sacramento County, the AES (Red Light Camera) operating at the intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue was an unlawful implementation. Vehicle Code ß 21455.7 requires that minimum Yellow Interval times in California be set according to the CADOT Traffic Manual. That Traffic Manual, in turn, specifies a mathematical formula to be used in determining minimum Yellow Interval time. It also provides a tabulation showing examples of such calculations at various "Approach Speeds". The term "Approach Speed" is left vague and ambiguous in the Traffic Manual, necessitating resort to outside materials to interpret the statute.

The Campbell Court addressed the process used to interpret a statute:

"The process that a reviewing court is mandated to undertake in interpreting a statute is well established. We begin our inquiry with the understanding that our essential responsibility in construing a statute is to ascertain the Legislatureís intent."

The Campbell Court continued on to describe three steps of the process:

"Our obvious initial step is to examine the actual language of the statute.

(People v. Mom (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 1217, 1221.)"Ö

"The second step is to refer to outside materials if the meaning of the words is unclear."Ö

" ĎThe final stepÖis to apply reason, practicality, and common sense to the language at hand. If possible, the words should be interpreted to make them workable and reasonable [citations], Ö[citations], in accord with common sense and justice, and to avoid an absurd result [citations].í (Halbertís Lumber, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1233, 1239-1240.)"

 

1. Exhibit C, supporting Defendantís contention, was excluded by the Trial Court.

Support for Defendant/Appellantís contention can be found in several sources. First, because it is included in the Record On Appeal for this case, is the report, a learned treatise, titled "The Effect of Dilemma Zones on Red Light Running Enforcement Tolerances". That report was offered into evidence at trial, marked as Defendantís Exhibit C, but later denied admission and not considered by the Trial Court.

That report, by revealing as it does the underlying derivation of the mathematical formula presented in the CADOT Traffic Manual, enlightens the reader as to why it is the speed limit of a particular roadway that is intended to be used in the calculation of minimum Yellow Interval time. No distinction is made regarding the various types of traffic approaching an intersection (left turn, right turn, U-turn or through traffic). If a distinction were intended, it would be a remarkable oversight on the authorís part since, throughout California and the other States, there have for decades been separate traffic signals in place for left turn traffic. It reasonably follows that the posted speed limit applies to all drivers in calculating minimum Yellow Interval. That report, discussing the derivation of the formula for minimum Yellow Interval, in the section titled "The Calculation of the Yellow Change Interval", uses the term Ďspeed limití repeatedly:

"In the case in which stopping is not an option, the vehicle would therefore have to cross the stop bar at the speed limit before the yellow interval ends [emphasis added]."

"Our next step is to determine how long it will take for a vehicle that is just closer than x feet away from the stop bar when the yellow is displayed to travel to the stop bar at the speed limit. This time will be the minimum duration of yellow [emphasis added]."

And, in the next section titled "A Detailed Explanation of Yellow Time Computations":

"The preceding minimum yellow time formula in Equation 4 is not the minimum time to stop. It is the minimum time to reach the intersection stop bar at the speed limit from distances that are so close to the intersection that a vehicle does not have enough distance to stop [emphasis retained and added]."

"Once the minimum stopping distance is calculated, then the minimum time to traverse this distance at the speed limit can be calculatedóthis is the value that we term the minimum yellow time. The minimum yellow time exists to provide a legal option for drivers who are too close to the intersection at the time that yellow is shown to come to a reasonable stop before reaching the stop bar. In other words, the minimum yellow time ensures that such drivers will at least have the option of reaching the intersection on yellow available to them, since the option of stopping before the intersection is either uncomfortable or physically impossible [emphasis retained and added]."

Finally, in the next section titled "Observations":

"As a final point, note that a driver who is unwilling or unable to accept a higher deceleration rate typically makes the decision to continue at or near the beginning of the yellow interval, while the legal consequences of that decision occur just after the termination of the yellow interval. By the time the driver realizes that he/she will not reach the intersection in time at the given travel speed, it is usually too late to do anything about it, short of exceeding the speed limit in the hopes of arriving before the onset of red. The fact that the driver could have initially chosen to decelerate at a faster rate is of no consequence once the yellow has nearly expired [emphasis added]."

By excluding Exhibit C from evidence, as the Trial Court did, the contents of the learned treatise offered by Defendant to help explain this was never considered by the trier-of-fact.

2. More confirmation is found in recent literature of Traffic Signal Engineering.

Even more emphatic support for Defendant/Appellantís contention can be found in some very recent technical literature of traffic signal engineering. An authoritative and comprehensive report, in the section titled "Yellow Change Intervals" (page 33), released for publication in July 2003, it is stated:

"If available, the 85th percentile speed should be used as the approach speed in this equation. In the absence of 85th percentile speed, some jurisdictions use posted speed as the approach speed. In most cases, using the 85th percentile speed will produce intervals that are more conservative (i.e., longer). In no case should the approach speed used in the calculation be less than the posted speed limit [emphasis added]."

 

3. Governorís Office Press Release (10/05/2001) provides a clue of Legislative intent.

Further support for Defendant/Appellantís view is found in a press release from the State of California, Office of the Governor, shortly after Vehicle Code ß 21455.7 was signed into law:

"SACRAMENTO

Governor Gray Davis has signed legislation that seeks to ensure that automated enforcement systems (AES) traffic light technology is used in a responsible manner. By standardizing yellow traffic light intervals, the motoring public can be assured that AES is not being used as a revenue generator for local governments.

This bill will help prevent increases in traffic violations at intersections equipped with AES and with yellow light timing intervals that are set well below the recommended guidelines.

SB 667 by Senator Steve Peace (D-El Cajon) requires AES located at intersections to comply with the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) traffic manual recommendations for minimum yellow light change intervals based on the posted speed limitÖ[emphasis added]"

4. Yellow Interval provides left-turners no notice of the underlying lesser speed limit.

Beyond the foregoing documentary support for Defendant/Appellantís contention, use of an arbitrary speed lesser than the posted speed limit in the Yellow Interval formula, for left turn traffic only, is unfair. Left turning drivers have no notice that a lesser speed limit is being applied to them than applies to similarly situated through-traffic motorists. At the trial in this case, the prosecution witness did not even bring with him a copy of the Table 9-1 of the Traffic Manual, which is the source of the Yellow Interval formula. Instead, Defendant/Appellant supplied that Table at trial.

5. The Red Light Photo Enforcement Program apparently disagrees, but why?

Why are the left turn Yellow Intervals set shorter than those for through traffic at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Watt Avenue? At trial, the Prosecution introduced by way of justification a letter (Peopleís Exhibit 7) from a Senior Civil Engineer for the County of Sacramento to the Supervisor of the Red Light Photo Enforcement Program. The Trial Court not only admitted the letter, but bestowed great credence upon it, as though the left turn Yellow Interval justified by the letter in some way set the maximum lawful approach speed in the left turn lanes, the posted speed limit reduced to irrelevancy for left turn traffic. Defendant/Appellant contends thereís no support for such a notion in either the authoritative literature of traffic signal engineering or in the Legislative History of Vehicle Code ß 21455.7. Had that Yellow Interval been set using the posted speed limit for approach speed, no red light violation by Defendant/Appellant would have occurred that day.

B. Infraction defendants are not entitled to jury trial or to have defense counsel appointed, but residual due process rights apply equally to misdemeanor and infraction defendants. By not fully upholding the presumption of innocence and thereby shifting the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to the Defendant, and by excluding relevant evidence, the Trial Court exceeded the bounds of judicial discretion.

In this case, Defendant was charged with a violation of Vehicle Code ß 21453 (c), a petty, public offense classified as an infraction. A thorough background of the California Ďinfractioní, including Ďpetty offensesí and how such were tried back to pre-Colonial days, appears in Oppenheimer, another red-light-running case where the right to a jury trial was at issue. The Penal Code specifies that infraction defendants have no right to a jury trial, nor any right to have defense counsel appointed at public expense:

"An infraction is not punishable by imprisonment. A person charged with an infraction shall not be entitled to a trial by jury. A person charged with an infraction shall not be entitled to have the public defender or other counsel appointed at public expense to represent him or her unless he or she is arrested and not released on his or her written promise to appear, his or her own recognizance, or a deposit of bail."

However, in the very next section, the Penal Code declares that all other provisions of law that apply to misdemeanors shall also apply to infractions:

"Except as otherwise provided by law, all provisions of law relating to misdemeanors shall apply to infractions including, but not limited to, powers of peace officers, jurisdiction of courts, periods for commencing action and for bringing a case to trial and burden of proof."

Thus, while the Penal Code eliminates jury trials and appointment of defense counsel for infraction defendants, such defendants do retain all other rights that one would associate with a misdemeanor defendant.

In this case, apart from jury trial and appointment of defense counsel, all the remaining elements of due process were apparently operating, both for the State and for the infraction defendant. The defendant was issued a citation, containing notice of a mandatory Court appearance. At that Court appearance, Defendant was informed of due process rights, entered a plea, was afforded an opportunity to plea bargain with a representative of the Sacramento County District Attorney after pleading Not Guilty, and was assigned a future date upon which a Trial (not a Hearing) would be held in the matter.

Based upon the foregoing, Defendant/Appellant contends that, apart from the rights to a jury trial and to have defense counsel appointed, all due process rights flowing from the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution to criminal misdemeanor defendants are equally applicable to the infraction Defendant and to the trial held in this infraction case. Included among those are an ongoing presumption of innocence with the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt squarely upon the prosecution, and due consideration of a defendantís relevant evidence by the trier-of-fact. The Penal Code provides:

"A defendant in a criminal action is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proved, and in case of a reasonable doubt whether his or her guilt is satisfactorily shown, he or she is entitled to an acquittal, but the effect of this presumption is only to place upon the state the burden of proving him or her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"

 

Defendant/Appellant maintains that the Trial Court exceeded the bounds of judicial discretion by denying admission into evidence for Defendantís Exhibits B and C, thereby excluding them from any consideration by the trier-of-fact. It is true, California Courts have the discretion to exclude evidence during trials under specified, constraining circumstances:

"The court in its discretion may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the probability that its admission will (a) necessitate undue consumption of time or (b) create substantial danger of undue prejudice, of confusing the issues, or of misleading the jury."

But judicial discretion is not without legal boundaries and constraints. A thorough analysis of the concept of Ďjudicial discretioní is contained in Gossman, a portion of which is quoted:

"To exercise the power of judicial discretion all the material facts in evidence must be both known and considered, together also with the legal principles essential to an informed, intelligent and just decision. On that basis it gives latitude to the trial judge to express his own convictions in the declaration of rights and application of remedies."

In City of Sacramento, a case requiring interpretation of a statute providing for award of attorney fees (Code of Civil Procedure ß 1021.5) the Court makes clear that a judgeís actions do not need to be demonstrably irrational to exceed the boundary:

"An appellate court may reverse a trial court decision denying attorney fees under [Code of Civil Procedure] section 1021.5 for a prejudicial abuse of discretion. [Citations]. The City advances as the sole test of such an abuse whether the trial courtís action was whimsical, arbitrary, or capricious. [Citations]. This pejorative boilerplate is misleading since it implies that in every case in which a trial court is reversed for an abuse of discretion its action was utterly irrational. Although irrationality is beyond the legal pale it does not mark the legal boundaries which fence in discretion."

Further, regarding cross-examination of the Peopleís sole witness, much of Defendantís prepared cross-examination at trial was rendered unusable by the Trial Courtís rulings to exclude Defendantís Exhibits B and C. Defendant/Appellant contends that a fair reading of applicable portions of the trial transcript will disclose examples of the Trial Court exceeding the bounds of judicial discretion.

Conclusion

The issue here regarding interpretation of Vehicle Code ß 21455.7 is not trivial. An increase throughout California in the Yellow Interval for left turns from one based on an arbitrary safe and prudent speed for left turn approaches (determined by local officials, presumably) to a Yellow Interval determined by the CADOT Traffic Manual formula using the roadwayís posted speed limit as the approach speed parameter (as urged herein and corresponding to the Yellow Interval applicable to through traffic) would likely reduce the total revenue generated for local jurisdictions by the left turn Red Light Cameras currently operating. However, the Legislature did not intend for automated enforcement systems (Red Light Cameras) to be a source of tax revenue. Instead, a reduction in violations was intended. But that is precisely what an increase in left turn Yellow Interval is most likely to bring about.

Based on all the foregoing, Defendant/Appellant respectfully asks this Court to reverse the Judgment of the Trial Court, set aside the Verdict, and grant Defendant/Appellant a new trial.

Dated: __________________

By: ____________________ Roger W. Neill, Defendant/Appellant



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