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Michele Kerr

Michele Kerr lives in California, for her sins.

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  1. Avatar Kolohe
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    says:

    You should stop at a red light. Even if you are turning, you should stop.

    People that don’t stop for red lights are a danger to people like me that are trying to cross intersections as pedestrians.

    I don’t want to hear excuses for what you think the loopholes in the law are. You should stop.

    If you don’t stop, you are deadly menance. You put me and my family in danger. My daily life is much more at risk from people like you than any ISIS or Korean dictator.

    If you don’t think you should stop at red lights, you deserve whatever bad fortune may fall upon you.Report

    • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      I (mostly) agree with this. As a bicycle commuter I am hyperaware of idiot drivers all around me. At the same time, I am also of the opinion that American roads are overregulated, and I think that tends to make drivers sloppy about obeying signals and signs. I will freely admit that I am a practitioner of the Idaho stop at signs, and I’ll roll through lights where I can’t see any traffic in the other direction, covering my brake. I do my very best to not be a hindrance to traffic.

      On the other hand, if you as a driver violate my right of way, especially if I think it’s in a way that might cause me injury, you just may suffer some damage to your car as I inevitably pass you.Report

      • I hate the drivers that use the bicycle lane as a right-turn lane — an illegal practice in my state. The other day one of them came up behind me and honked. When I looked back, they were gesturing wildly that I should get out of their way.Report

        • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Michael Cain
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          says:

          I’m willing to give drivers some leeway in circumstances such as these. In Chicago, bike lanes have kind of been shoehorned into the streets, and this tends to disrupt automobile traffic patterns.

          I love drivers that honk at me. I got really good at ignoring noises like that when my kids were small and crying themselves to sleep. The 60 second delays in their trips are some of the great joys of cycle commuting.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      I’m both with you and not with you on this.

      Drivers should stop at red lights. “It’s an offense that almost every driver commits” carries exactly zero weight. Almost every driver commits offences that put human life at risk on the regular, and they should bloody well stop. If they need to pay fines on the regular to get it through their heads, so be it.

      Alsotoo though, the law should be enforced as it was intended by legislators, to make people safer. Treating traffic laws as revenue sources – and in particular enforcing them specifically in ways and places where it has the least chance of changing behaviour, in order to keep the ticket revenue coming (in my city, an accusation frequently and mostly erroneously leveled at the police) – that’s not right either. It turns the law into a way to rob from the poor and give to the rich, because tickets are disproportionately issued to people who can least afford them; and it deliberately and cynically continues the endangerment of human life, just to allow politicians to continue being too cowardly to set taxes and services in a realistic balance.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to dragonfrog
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        says:

        Also I was a bit troubled by the phrasing “So if I stopped at a stop sign and then scared a little old lady who was taking too long to cross the street,” in the OP. The hypothetical little old lady was absolutely not taking “too long”. She was taking exactly as long as she needs. If you drive too close to her, you were too fast, not her too slow.

        It’s frankly a bit scary. It seems to be a common attitude that the person sitting in a padded chair in a climate-controlled box that can be accelerated with massive force by a tiny action of their calf muscle, is somehow the victim when someone using entirely the power of their own muscles, at the mercy of the elements, takes the time they need to move their inconviently unmotorized human body out of the right of way God gave to those who own automobiles.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      “You should stop at a red light. Even if you are turning, you should stop. ”

      I agree.

      What’s “stop”?

      Oh, “stop moving”? For how long–do I just need to do the barest-minimum check of my progress or do I need to be at “all vehicle motion has ceased” for at least five seconds? And how do I tell when I’m not moving–do I need to check against some visual reference outside the car, or is “speedometer indicates zero” sufficient? And who verifies all this–is there some definition of “stop” that the camera operator is using that I need to meet, and how can I be sure the operator is confident to make that determination? I’m pretty sure there aren’t training courses for this sort of thing.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    I got a right turn on red from a camera once, but the fine was much less and the loopholes unavailable. I’m still not a fan of how traffic cameras are employed.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      Oscar,
      Around here “traffic cameras” mean something different. They’re actually used to, quelle surprise, control traffic. As in, IDing when you have cars waiting, when you have pedestrians waiting, and making sure that the lights stay greener than otherwise.Report

  3. Avatar Richard Hershberger
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    says:

    Here are two interpretations of what happened:

    (1) You were fortunate enough to have a judge prepared to listen to your argument and give it real consideration. Traffic court judges are more likely to rubber stamp the ticket: You can appeal it to a higher court, at which point it is not that judge’s problem. You got a higher grade of traffic court judge.

    (2) The last thing they were going to do was set this up for an appeal to a court high enough up the ladder to set a binding precedent. Once you established that you had a potentially real argument there wasn’t a chance of a conviction. You get your acquittal and their problem goes away with only the loss of that $490.

    Take your pick. Personally, I find the idea of a traffic court judge finding a legislative intent argument compelling to be, well, not compelling. Were there nothing else going on, he would rule according to standard procedure and let the higher court sort it out on appeal, thereby providing guidance for future cases. My guess is that such guidance was the last thing they wanted.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Richard Hershberger
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      says:

      I have a friend who, living in Arizona, got a speeding ticket by robot camera. He went to the courthouse on his court day to pay the fine, and the cashier told him, “you should really go to the courtroom”. She was insistent, so he took her advice, and found that the judge he had been assigned found all such tickets unconstitutional and dismissed his case with no fine.

      Obviously, the state isn’t going to appeal this, either, since they don’t want to find out.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the traffic law and the traffic law won.Report

  5. Avatar Joe Sal
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    says:

    I’m glad you beat this, and it was a hell of a clusterfish to get to the point of beating it.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Cain
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ll have to add this to my list of badly-written statutes. What the judge and officer clearly wanted to do was interpret the statute the way my state’s right-turn-on-red is written. Our statute starts by saying that when presented with a red light, you must stop and wait for the light to change. Then it gives two exceptions that are explicitly to the waiting part (we also have a left-turn-on-red for a particular combination of one-way streets). Here, failure to come to a complete stop is always a violation.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      You made me look. I just pulled up the statute in Maryland and it is the same way as for you. Thinking about this from a legal drafting perspective, this seems the sensible way to go about it. It is even intuitive. The right-turn-on-red is, after all, an exception to the general rule.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    I have taken, and am about to re-take, traffic court training in order to serve as a judge pro tem for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Traffic training is the highest area of need for the temporary judge program, and, on a related note, traffic court is widely considered among judicial officers to be the least desirable judicial assignment. So it’s not surprising that the judicial officers considered the best at their jobs by their peers tend to exercise their ability to pick assignments away from traffic.

    That’s not to say that a traffic judge is either unqualified or uninterested, mind you. It’s to say the very best judges are likely to wind up elsewhere.

    In California trial courts, there are several tiers of judicial officers that a litigant like our author might encounter. Most self-represented litigants do not distinguish between them in any meaningful way, and the fact of the matter is that the clerks and the system discourage careful examination by the litigants of who exactly is sitting on the bench. That may not, on balance, be a particularly bad or meaningful thing — a full, Governor-appointed-and-then-elected-by-the-voters Judge technically outranks a Court-appointed Commissioner (who can sit in any Superior Court) or a Court-appointed Referee (who generally only sit in specialty courts like traffic or delinquency), and especially in traffic and small claims you’ll often encounter someone like me who volunteers one day or a half day a month tho serve for free. But they all have the same academic and experiential qualifications and they all take the same classes to learn how to do the job. If you appear before me, you can be confident that I have been practicing law for the requisite number of years (ten) and been formally educated the same way a “real” Judge has been with respect to the procedure and substantive law.

    Reading between the lines here, it looks to me like our author appeared before a Commissioner on her first two trips to court. And I have a bone to pick with this Commissioner. It’s evident that our author took time to learn nomenclature and paid close attention to what was going on in her case, so I’m taking her at her word about the precise terms used in the proceedings.

    “Plaintiff” refers to the party who initiates a civil action, the person who comes to court and complains that someone else, the defendant, did something that harmed them. That word is really not accurately applied to the police officer who is there to authenticate the state’s exhibits. That officer is not a prosecutor, that officer is not even a lawyer.

    Accordingly, that officer does not represent the People of the State of California; he lacks authority to negotiate plea bargains. The Commissioner may very well have discretion to allow that officer to respond to testimony offered by a defendant about the facts of a case. The Commissioner really ought not to solicit the officer’s opinions about the law. The officer is not a lawyer and even if he holds a juris doctorate he is not acting in the capacity of a lawyer. He is authorized and empowered to offer evidence without the guidance of a prosecuting attorney present in court, and that’s it.

    A judicial officer asking a police officer to interpret the law and, at an even higher level of complexity, interpret the legislative history of a law to divine its actual intent, and even more problematically, to do so in the capacity of an advocate for a conviction is inappropriate. That’s properly the role of a prosecuting attorney, in this case Stephen Wagstaffe, the District Attrorney of the County of San Mateo, or one of the Assistant or Deputy District Attorneys working under his supervision.

    It may be of interest to you that red light camera enforcement has been successfully challenged twice now, though not on the grounds that seem most obvious to me — the Confrontation Clause. The real problems have come up with regards to how the evidence generated by the robots and supporting electronic systems are authenticated, and whether or not the witness is competent to testify that the system is properly calibrated and scientifically reliable. The leading case regarding authentication is People v. Goldsmith (2014) 59 Cal.4th 258, and the leading exemplar of undermining the reliabilty of the automated enforcement mechanism is People v. Rekte (2015) 232 Cal.App.4th 1237. The company that has the contract for most, if not all of the municipalities in California, Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., is to my observation vigilant in training its people, and the police officers of the agencies it has on contract, to adapt to changes in the legal landscape.

    So here’s the interesting issue I’ve got now. My friend lent his car to his adult son, who got his picture took by Redflex. Since the car is registered to my friend, he’s the one who got the ticket in the mail, with the pictures of his son driving the car. He has the option to sign an affidavit saying “Nope, that’s not me,” and the ticket gets dismissed, but the form states that he must identify the driver in his affidavit in order to get a dismissal. I can find no legal authority that, absent a subpoena, he is obligated to identify his son. So I think his best shot is showing up to the arraignment and asking that the ticket be dismissed in the interests of justice, because it’s obviously not him driving the car and he has no obligation at the arraignment to implicate a third party.

    Finally, it’s also a new policy, adopted at the urging of Governor Brown, that you no longer have to post your fine as bail in order to secure your right to a trial. So for a new ticket, there’s no chasing down the court clerk to get them to cut you a check and give you your money back. I consider this evidence that at least some actors within the system really do think that traffic laws are about safety first, and revenue second. (I promise you that safety and not revenue is my priorty as a judicial officer. I cannot speak as to the attitudes any of my colleagues or the full-time bench, or perhaps more importantly as to the attitudes of the court staff who do the bulk of the work in that system.) I also consider this newer policy to be more consistent with the concept of due process than the former system: you have a right to a trial, and a right means it’s something that you get from the state without penalty or cost to yourself. Requiring that a person pony up money lest they be defaulted makes trial a privilege, and one available disproportionately to those with financial means.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Burt Likko
      Ignored
      says:

      I can find no legal authority that, absent a subpoena, he is obligated to identify his son.

      It seems to me that the authority is that if this matter goes to evidentiary hearing, the State will ask the dad on cross-examination who was driving the car and the judge will allow it. So if the purpose of the affidavit is to conveniently resolve common evidentiary issues, it reasonable to have the affidavit address the common issues.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to PD Shaw
        Ignored
        says:

        But here’s the trick: he can move for dismissal at his arraignment, and he’s not under oath at his arraignment. So at his arraignment, he isn’t compelled to offer any testimony at all (unless the question comes from the bench). As I wrote earlier today, I believe it’s improper for a police officer to “play prosecutor” and ask questions of the defendant at the trial.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Burt Likko
          Ignored
          says:

          Sounds like you have the procedural angle covered and unlike Kolohe above, I don’t have a problem with procedural / technical victories. I personally wouldn’t do this for my kids, and I think they know it, but that a moral point, not a legal one.Report

      • Avatar Robert in reply to PD Shaw
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        says:

        If the son was actually his wife, would spousal privilege cover it? And if so, how would one exercise spousal privilege without outing the wife?Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko
      Ignored
      says:

      You act as a traffic court judge for free? Does this give you an in to something, or are you simply a masochist?Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Burt Likko
      Ignored
      says:

      1) In So. Carolina, the arresting officer acts to plead the case in a bench trial in misdemeanor cases. Hard to believe that would be the only jurisdiction.

      2) Missouri (under AG Koster) did away with stuffing the public purse via traffic tickets.
      Meanwhile, Illinois struck the part prohibiting enforcement for monetary purposes from its statute.

      3) Also, the Illinois statute requires that a driver “can” turn safely, but there is no requirement the driver actually do so.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Burt Likko
      Ignored
      says:

      Your friend should pick someone at random from the LA Times obituary column. Sure, it’s perjury, but that’s how traffic court rolls.Report

  8. Avatar aaron david
    Ignored
    says:

    Good on you. You beat them at their own game.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    To this day, I can’t believe my big gotcha made it into the trial

    This part of the post made me smile and nod in satisfaction.

    My own personal experiences with traffic court have all ended the same way: showing up early, sitting as the judge calls out a list of names (occasionally punctuated with “bench warrant”), and making it to the end of the list without having been called. At that point, the people who haven’t been called all get asked to go into the hallway where a person with a clipboard is standing and they have us all sign next to our name on the list acknowledging that our matter has been dropped.

    (This was during the period where I had a peace sign bumper sticker on my car and I did stuff like “get pulled over for not using my right turn signal at a stop sign” or “failed to sign back of registration” and it was always the SAME FREAKING COP. As soon as I got rid of the peace sign, I stopped getting pulled over.)Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Sounds like you’d learned an important lesson. Go and sin no more my child.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      I got a ticket, and the judge ended up being the guy that teaches family law in the paralegal program.
      He made me write a motion to dismiss– extra homework.
      I could have walked out of that place with a date with a prosecutor if I’d wanted to. Too many other things going on.Report

  10. Avatar Will Truman
    Ignored
    says:

    For the record, Ms Kerr tried to respond three times, but the system for whatever reason ate them. She does plan to respond.Report

  11. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    It’s funny, I’ve gotten minor traffic tickets (39 in a 30-1 point), from cops, who have then showed up, even after I’ve requested a revised court date, but had cops never show for major tickets (79 in a 55-5 points).

    But the assumption that most cameras are about revenue generation hold up. Otherwise, all those cameras around schools would be turned OFF over summer break wouldn’t they? Gee, what a surprise they aren’t?Report

  12. Avatar MK
    Ignored
    says:

    OK, trying again.

    Kohole: You should stop at a red light.”

    Indeed. Find the specific quote where I argued otherwise.

    Dragonfrog: Also I was a bit troubled by the phrasing “So if I stopped at a stop sign and then scared a little old lady who was taking too long to cross the street,” in the OP. The hypothetical little old lady was absolutely not taking “too long”. She was taking exactly as long as she needs. If you drive too close to her, you were too fast, not her too slow.

    Indeed. The phrasing was deliberate. It would, indeed, be a bad thing. And yet, that failure to be considerate and safe at a stop sign would always be a lesser penalty than failure to stop at a red light before turning right.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to MK
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      says:

      Kohole: You should stop at a red light.”

      Indeed. Find the specific quote where I argued otherwise.

      What.the.hell. There was video. I at it. I’d made a right turn onto Menlo Avenue. My brake lights were on. Leave it at that

      This right here.

      You are an expert wordsmith. You know exactly what you said and why you said it.

      You clearly have no remorse or regret for creating a dangerous situation – even if fully within the letter of the law.

      I just hope your laxity and selfishness behind the controls of several hundreds of kilograms remains always an issue soley confined to the courts, and not a price paid in blood.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kolohe
        Ignored
        says:

        “You clearly have no remorse or regret for creating a dangerous situation – even if fully within the letter of the law.”

        If your actions are “within the letter of the law”, you did NOTHING wrong legally. Full stop. If the citizens of Menlo Park believe this action referenced is not safe, or hell, if they just don’t want it done, they can pass a law, or revise an existing one. I’ll not address any non legal topics, because it’s very clear from the OP that the law is solely about revenue generation NOT safety.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to MK
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m confused. Is your argument that your brake lights being on is equivalent to stopping? Because that just isn’t true.

      Regardless of the legal details and court proceedings, if you failed to come to a complete stop and fully evaluate your surroundings before turning right on red, you acted unsafely.Report

  13. Avatar MK
    Ignored
    says:

    Oscar: I got a right turn on red from a camera once, but the fine was much less and the loopholes unavailable. I’m still not a fan of how traffic cameras are employed.

    As described in the story, California legislators made running a red light a severe penalty. All the data shows that dire stats that justified making the penalty more severe all involved going straight through a red light. So the intent was to exclude turning right on red. The legislators thought that subsection (b) involved turning right on red, and didn’t realize that (b) was just about stopping then going when unsafe.

    If your state charges the same penalty for running a red light as it does for running a stop sign, then there’s no issue to challenge.Report

  14. Avatar MK
    Ignored
    says:

    Michael,

    What the judge and officer clearly wanted to do was interpret the statute the way my state’s right-turn-on-red is written. Our statute starts by saying that when presented with a red light, you must stop and wait for the light to change. Then it gives two exceptions that are explicitly to the waiting part (we also have a left-turn-on-red for a particular combination of one-way streets). Here, failure to come to a complete stop is always a violation.

    Yes. Our statute says the same thing. See my previous comment.

    Richard: Same.Report

  15. Avatar MK
    Ignored
    says:

    Burt,

    *You read too much between the lines. I only went to court once.

    *The judge did not ask the police officer to interpret the law. He asked if the police officer had an answer to my argument. The police officer had many responses to common arguments, which is entirely normal and in no way unique to this case.

    * I wouldn’t swear that the judge used the word “plaintiff”. That wasn’t a detail that mattered to me. And given your objection is based on the request for interpretation, I’m unconcerned. See previous point.

    *I wasn’t challenging red light camera enforcement. I would have made exactly the same argument to a ticket issued by an actual police officer.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to MK
      Ignored
      says:

      I know this one! (waves hand frantically). You get to give your opinion of the law because you are standing for yourself as legal representation. The officer has no such standing, therefore, he may not answer your argument, which is about the law.Report

  16. Avatar MK
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird–yeah, your cop didn’t show up.

    Cops in California used to rarely show up in court, then the state got serious and made it a job performance requirement–this is waaaaay back in the 80s. But even so, out of maybe 30 cases that day, 4 or 5 got to walk because the cop didn’t show.Report

  17. Avatar MK
    Ignored
    says:

    Kolohe,

    You’re a tad goofy. The material you quoted is evidence that I don’t hold the opinion you accuse me of.

    Such a drama queen.Report

  18. Avatar David Friedman
    Ignored
    says:

    Rudyard Kipling’s story “The village that voted the Earth was flat” is about a town that set up a speed trap as a revenue source and the revenge by a group of motorists caught in it. You might enjoy reading it.Report

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