ACLU Challenges Minneapolis “Photo Cop” Ordinance

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
December 15, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU of Minnesota
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MINNEAPOLIS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a motion today seeking to have the Minneapolis Automated Traffic Enforcement Ordinance invalidated as a violation of Minnesota state law and the Constitution.

“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,” said ACLU of Minnesota Executive Director Chuck Samuelson. “It turns the notion of due process on its head.”

The motion was filed on behalf of an individual who received a citation because his vehicle was alleged to have violated the ordinance. The Minneapolis ordinance at issue (nicknamed “Stop on Red”) was adopted last year and the city began mailing citations to vehicle owners in July.

The city installed traffic light cameras at some intersections designed to photograph vehicles that violate traffic laws by running red lights. The cameras take three photographs. The first is that of the vehicle prior to entering the intersection, the second photograph is of the intersection during the red light and the third photograph is a close-up picture of the vehicle license plate. The cameras do not record the faces of drivers and passengers. Because the cameras do not record the faces of drivers, the city is be unable to determine who was driving the vehicle when it ran the red light. The city has amended their traffic ordinance to state that the owner of a motor vehicle that is detected going through a red light by the camera system is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.

The ordinance provides for only limited means of rebutting that presumption – prove that you sold the vehicle and give the city the name of the new owner or prove that that the vehicle was reported stolen before the date of the violation.

The ACLU of Minnesota said that the Minneapolis “Photo Cop” ordinance is invalid because it deprives vehicle owners of the right to due process and it conflicts with Minnesota statutes governing traffic laws. In Minnesota petty misdemeanor prosecutions, the prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that an individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the “Photo Cop” ordinance reverses the burden of proof and requires the owner to prove that they were not the driver of the vehicle that was photographed going through the red light.

In addition, Minnesota prohibits local traffic regulations from being in conflict with state law. The ACLU charges that the Minneapolis ordinance conflicts with state law because it shifts liability for traffic light violations from the driver to the owner. During the 2001 and 2003 legislative sessions, the Minnesota Legislature considered and rejected bills that would have allowed local governments to use automated cameras to enforce traffic regulations.

The motion to dismiss is scheduled to be heard in Hennepin County District Court on December 21 at 1:30 a.m. It will be argued by ACLU of Minnesota volunteer attorneys Howard Bass and Chad Fancher.

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