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San Francisco##151;Automatic cameras that are used to catch drivers who run red lights are under attack in criminal and civil cases around California. In a consolidated criminal case before Commissioner Paul Slavit in San Francisco’s traffic court, defense attorneys argue that photos taken by the unmanned cameras are inadmissible evidence and that citations against their roughly 200 clients should be dismissed. For San Francisco and many other U.S. cities, the cameras are a handy tool for nabbing red-light runners. In 2002, the city issued about 17,400 citations for running red lights, about 9,300 of them thanks to red-light camera photos, city officials said. San Francisco assesses a $341 fine for each ticket, and violators get a moving violation point on their driver’s license. Defense attorneys are questioning the admissibility of the photos in their clients’ cases on three primary grounds. They contend that the photos are hearsay because they can’t be properly authenticated, and that the red-light camera system-which includes a camera, sensors and a computer-doesn’t meet California’s test for determining the admissibility of scientific evidence. The San Francisco defense attorneys also argue that the city’s red-light camera system isn’t operated by a government entity, as required under the state Vehicle Code, but by a privately contracted company. In San Diego, the last argument was part of the strategy that defense lawyers used to persuade a superior court judge to throw out nearly 300 tickets in 2001, said Arthur Tait, a partner with San Diego-based Tait, Creamer & Wong who worked on that case. Attorneys for San Francisco insist in a brief that it is complying with the Vehicle Code. Even if the city weren’t in full compliance, the brief says, that should only affect the weight given to the photos, not render them inadmissible. Reliable technology The city attorney’s office also counters in the brief that the photos can be properly authenticated and that the technology behind the red-light cameras is reliable and accepted in the scientific community. “It is unreasonable for a defendant, assuming the registered owner is the driver captured on film, to suggest that the camera is taking a photograph of someone else or someone else’s car,” the brief says. The city attorney’s office is also defending red-light cameras in a civil suit brought by a woman who pleaded guilty to running a red light, then sued the city, the state and the private companies involved in the cameras’ operations. The case, Buys v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 400669, was coordinated last month with four other civil cases in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

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