Monday, August 10, 2015

The Citation, the Automated Traffic Enforcement System and the Photograph

As the title suggests, this post examines an opinion in which the California Court of Appeals – 4th District reviewed Viktors Rekte’s conviction for violating California Vehicle Code § 21453(a) by “failing to stop at a red light.”  People v. Rekte, 232 Cal.App.4th 1237 (2015).  Rekte was, as explained below, convicted after a trial held in the Superior Court of Riverside County.  People v. Rekte, supra. 
The Court of Appeals, as courts generally do, began its opinion by explaining how the case arose:
Operator Don Teagarden is a retired Riverside Sheriff's Department deputy. Since May 2010, he has been employed by the Riverside Police Department to review violations of the Automated Traffic Enforcement System (ATES).  The automated camera system captures drivers who enter an intersection while facing a red traffic light. The system is triggered when a car goes through a red light while driving at least 15 miles per hour. The ATES system was installed and maintained by Redflex Traffic Systems (Redflex).

The system takes a series of still photographs and a 12–second video, depicting the elements of the violation. The images are transmitted electronically to the Redflex office in Phoenix, where they are reviewed by Redflex personnel. Redflex then sends a compact disc with the images and the 12–second video on it to the Riverside Police Department, where Operator Teagarden reviews them. Digitally printed on the photographic image is information relative to the date, time, location, vehicle speed, and how long the signal light had been in the red at the time the photograph was taken. Although Operator Teagarden did not personally test the sequence, he testified that the yellow phases met or exceeded the minimum `recommendations’ established by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans).

On November 5, 2012, Operator Teagarden received digital photographs and a video clip from Redflex, showing [Rekte’s] vehicle, as it was photographed on October 26, 2012, traveling southbound on Tyler Street where it intersects with State Route 91. The digital information on the photograph, received by electronic means from Redflex, indicated [Rekte] was traveling at 15 miles per hour in a posted 35 mile an hour zone. The photographic and video evidence showed [his] vehicle to be approximately six feet behind the limit line when the signal had been red for at least 0.96 seconds, and showed the vehicle failed to stop for the red light, continuing to make a right turn.
People v. Rekte, supra. 
The opinion goes on to explain that
[a]ccording to the digital information on the photographic evidence he received, Operator Teagarden testified that the yellow light interval time was 3.65 seconds, which exceeds the 3.6 seconds required for a 35 mile an hour roadway. After reviewing the photographic and video evidence, Operator Teagarden issued a citation for violating Vehicle Code section 21453, subdivision (a), which was then mailed by the vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, to [Rekte].
People v. Rekte, supra.  The opinion goes on to note that at the trial, the defense
presented expert testimony by engineer Sean Stockwell, who visited the location of the infraction on more than one occasion, before and after the date of the offense, to time the yellow light interval. To time the interval, Stockwell took four video clips of the changing traffic signals, which he uploaded onto a video program on his computer, in order to get a time index. On each occasion, using the software indexing capability, the yellow light interval was found to be 3.5 seconds, plus or minus 0.07 seconds, which is less than the 3.6 second minimum interval required by the MUTCD [California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices].

In examining the actual intersection where the offense was to have occurred, Stockwell noticed that the traffic signals are in perfect alignment with the camera which is mounted in the center median of the road. At that angle, a driver in the right-hand turn lane looking ahead would have to turn left 20 degrees in order to see the stop light. There is a 24 degree difference between the driver at the limit line and the ATES camera system, so as the driver approaches the intersection, he or she has to look more and more to the left. The angle obscures 41 percent of the traffic signal light. The MUTCD requires that signal placement, aiming and adjustment is to optimize visibility of the signal's indications to approaching traffic, not to the ATES camera.
People v. Rekte, supra. 
Prior to his trial, Rekte had
made an in limine motion to exclude the photographic and video evidence on grounds: (1) the yellow light interval did not conform with the standards required by the MUTCD; (2) the defendant was not provided with pretrial discovery of the video clip upon which the ATES citation was based; and (3) the geometry of the intersection and placement angles of the ATES equipment and traffic signals obscured the view of a substantial portion of the traffic signal light.
People v. Rekte, supra.  The court denied his motion in limine. People v. Rekte, supra. 
Getting back to the Court of Appeals, it noted that when both sides rested at trial, Rekt
argued for dismissal because the geometry of the intersection and placement of the signals requires the driver to look away from his or her direction of travel in order to see the light, and because the yellow light interval was less than the mandated 3.6 seconds, demonstrating that the equipment was not functioning properly and the evidence was unreliable. The court found beyond a reasonable doubt that [Rekte] violated Vehicle Code section 21453, subdivision (a) and imposed a fine of $490.00. 
People v. Rekte, supra. 
In his appeal, Rekte argued that (i) “the trial court committed error in applying Evidence Code sections 1552 and 1553;” and (ii) “the trial court committed error relating to the burden of proof in infraction cases.”  People v. Rekte, supra.  In its opinion, the Court of Appeals noted that these two issues “are issues of first impression” and both “involve the burden of producing evidence”.  People v. Rekte, supra.  And “[b]ecause these issues are so intertwined, we will deal with them as one issue.” People v. Rekte, supra. 
The Court of Appeals began its analysis of that issue by explain that Rekte argued that
the court erred in applying Evidence Code Sections 1552 and 1553, respecting the information depicted in the records of Redflex Traffic Systems, consisting of the traffic citation, the 12–second video, and several still pictures of the vehicle with computer data imprinted at the top of the photographs. In this respect, [Rekte] argues that the presumptions embodied in Evidence Code sections 1552 and 1553 were improperly viewed as presumptions affecting the burden of proof, rather than presumptions affecting the burden of producing evidence. We agree.
People v. Rekte, supra. 
As Wikipedia explains, in the law of evidence,
presumption of a particular fact can be made without the aid of proof in some situations. . . . The invocation of a presumption shifts the burden of proof from one party to the opposing party in a court trial. Presumptions are sometimes categorized into two types: presumptions without basic facts, and presumptions with basic facts. . . .

An example of presumption without basic facts is presumption of innocence.

An example of presumption with basic facts is Declared death in absentia, e.g., the law says if a person has been missing for seven years or more (basic fact), that person is presumed dead.
People v. Rekte, supra (emphasis in the original).
The Court of Appeals began its analysis of Rekte’s argument regarding the trial judge’s construing the presumptions “embodied in Evidence Code sections 1552 and 1553” as “affecting the burden of proof, rather than presumptions affecting the burden of producing evidence”.  People v. Rekte, supra.  As this Wikipedia entry explains, in
criminal cases the prosecution bears the burden of proof, i.e., it has to prove the acts necessary to establish guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant has no burden of proof except when he or she raises an affirmative defense, such as self-defense. 
Also, as the Court of Appeals explained in this case, a presumption is
`either conclusive or rebuttable. Every rebuttable presumption is either (a) a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence or (b) a  presumption affecting the burden of proof.’ (CaliforniaEvidence Code § 601). The burden of producing evidence means the obligation of a party to introduce evidence sufficient to avoid a ruling against him on the issue. (People v. Atwood (California Court of Appeals 2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 805, 2 Cal.Rptr.3d 67; Tusher v. Gabrielsen (California Court of Appeals 1998) 68 Cal. App.4th 131, 80 Cal.Rptr.2d 126). In a criminal case, because the prosecution bears the burden of establishing guilt, it may not rest its case entirely on a presumption unless the fact proved is sufficient to support the inference of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (County Court v. Allen (1979) 442 U.S. 140).
People v. Rekte, supra (emphasis in the original).
The court also pointed out that the burden of producing evidence as to a
particular fact is initially on the party having the burden of proof as to that fact. Evidence Code § 550); People v. Barasa (2002) 103 Cal. App. 4th 287, 126 Cal. Rptr.2d 628.) Once the plaintiff presents evidence to establish each element of its case, the defendant has the burden of going forward with its own evidence as to those issues. (People v. Barasa, supra; see also Evidence Code § 606. . . .  Where the opposing party produces evidence undermining the presumption, the presumption is disregarded and the trier of fact must decide the question without regard to it.  (Evidence Code §§ 603, 604); Craig v. Brown & Root (2000) 84 Cal. App.4th 416, 100 Cal. Rptr. 2d 818) In other words, the other party is no longer aided by the presumption and must prove the fact in question. (Rancho Santa Fe Pharmacy, Inc. v. Seyfert (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 875, 268 Cal. Rptr. 505)
People v. Rekte, supra. 
The court then took up the specific issue involved in this appeal, noting that
Evidence Code sections 1552 and 1553 provide a presumption for both the existence and content of computer information and digital images that the printed versions purport to represent, and establish, preliminarily, that a computer's print function has worked properly. (People v. Goldsmith (2014), 59 Cal.4th 258, 172 Cal.Rptr.3d 637, 326 P.3d). They may support a finding that, in the absence of contrary evidence, the printed versions of ATES images and data are accurate representations of the images stored in the ATES equipment. . . . People v. Goldsmith, supra.

By their express language, Evidence Code §§1552 and 1553, create presumptions affecting the burden of producing evidence. `If a party to an action introduces evidence that a printed representation of the computer information or computer program is inaccurate or unreliable, the party introducing the printed representation into evidence has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, that the printed representation is an accurate representation of the existence and content of the computer information or computer program that it purports to represent.’ (Evidence Code, § 1552(a)) This subdivision is expressly applicable to the printed representation of computer-generated information stored by an ATES. (Evidence Code, § 1552(b)).  Evidence Code section 1553 contains similar language relating to the burden of proof that digital images or video are accurate, after a party introduces evidence that the images are inaccurate or unreliable
People v. Rekte, supra. 
The Court of Appeals went on to explain that,
[h]ere, the defendant undermined the presumptions created by Evidence Code sections 1552 and1553. He produced expert testimony and evidence that the printed representation of computer generated information (Evidence Code, § 1552) and the video or digital images admitted into evidence (Evidence Code, § 1553) were inaccurate and unreliable. An inadequate yellow light interval renders a safe stop impossible, and constitutes an emergency justifying the entry into an intersection when the signal turns red. (People v. Ausen (1940) 40 Cal.App.2d Supp. 831, 105 P.2d 321.)

The burden of producing evidence shifted to the city once the presumption was rebutted, but the expert's testimony and opinions were not refuted. Because the digital images were previewed by Redflex before being forwarded to the Riverside Police Department, and because digital images are susceptible to manipulation, it was incumbent upon the City to introduce evidence that the printed representations were accurate. (See People v. Beckley (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 509, 110 Cal.Rptr.3d 362.) Otherwise, the images were inadmissible because they were not properly authenticated. Thus, the question of guilt should have been determined without the photographic evidence. Without that evidence, there was no reliable evidence of a violation of Vehicle Code section 21453, subdivision (a).
People v. Rekte, supra (emphasis in the original).
It also pointed out that evidence,
to be substantial, must be of ponderable legal significance, reasonable in nature, credible, and of solid value. (People v. Johnson (1980) 26 Cal.3d 557, 162 Cal.Rptr. 431, 606 P.2d 738) Ordinarily, we presume in support of the judgment the existence of every fact the trier could reasonably deduce from the evidence. (People v. Davis (1995) 10 Cal.4th 463, 41 Cal.Rptr.2d 826, 896 P.2d 119) But evidence that raises only a suspicion of guilt is insufficient to support a conviction. (People v. Reyes (1974) 12 Cal.3d 486, 500, 116 Cal.Rptr. 217, 526 P.2d 225). . . . ,

A reasonable inference may not be based on suspicion alone, or on imagination, speculation, supposition, surmise, conjecture, or guess work; a finding of fact must be an inference drawn from evidence rather than a mere speculation as to probabilities without evidence. (People v. Ramon, 175 Cal.App.4th 843, 96 Cal.Rptr.3d 459 (2009). . . .) The sole evidence presented to the trier of fact in the present case consisted of photographs, initially presumed to be reliable, but which presumption was rebutted. As a result, the foundational requirement of authentication was lacking.
People v. Rekte, supra. 
The Court of Appeals then explained that
Operator Teagarden was not a percipientwitness to the violation. As a matter of law, without the photographic evidence, there is insufficient evidence to support the judgment.

The People argue that the yellow light interval issue is irrelevant because the MUTCD provides for a 3.0 second yellow light interval for `protected right turns.’ It is true that Section 4D.26 provides for a shorter minimum yellow change interval for `protected’ left or right turns. However, `protected mode’ refers to `a mode of traffic control signal operation in which left or right turns are permitted to be made when a left or right GREEN ARROW signal indication is displayed.’ (MUTCD, § 1A.13 (160).) There was no evidence that the location of the current offense was a `protected right turn’ and no evidence of a green arrow. For this reason, the minimum yellow light interval was governed by Table 4D–102 of the MUTCD, which prescribes a 3.6 second minimum yellow light interval for a street having 35–mile per hour limit.

At oral argument, the People argued that if reversal is required because evidence was erroneously admitted at trial, double jeopardy is not implicated and the proper remedy is to remand for retrial. (People v. Llamas (1997) 51 Cal.App.4th 1729, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 357.) Remand for retrial is not a viable option where the inadmissible evidence was the sole evidence of guilt.

Because the prosecution did not produce reliable evidence of the offense, the judgment must be reversed.
People v. Rekte, supra. You can, if you are interested, find a photo of Viktors Rekte, and read more about the case, in the article you can find here.

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