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People of the State of California v. Melinda Daugherty

August 12, 2011

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, PLAINTIFF/RESPONDENT,
v.
MELINDA DAUGHERTY, DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Diane M. Price Presiding Judge of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, County of Napa*fn4

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION ON APPEAL AFTER REHEARING

INTRODUCTION

Melinda Daugherty appeals from her conviction for violation of Vehicle Code section 21453, subdivision (a), failure to stop at a red signal. The alleged violation was captured by red light cameras installed and monitored pursuant to a contract between the City of Napa and Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. (hereinafter Redflex), a provider of red light camera services for traffic enforcement agencies. Defendant contends: (1) the City's contract with Redflex is in violation of statute and that all photographic evidence should have been excluded from evidence and (2) if the evidence was properly admitted, the conviction was not supported by substantial evidence.

The court finds that the City's contract with Redflex was in violation of statute. The contract included a "cost neutrality" provision that guaranteed the City would never be obligated to pay more to Redflex than it collects in fines; in effect, the compensation to Redflex is based on the number of citations issued, which is prohibited by statute. Nevertheless, the contract violation alone does not render the evidence inadmissible. Rather, the contract violation casts doubt on the presumed reliability of the photographic evidence, and the burden therefore shifts to the People to prove its accuracy. At trial, the People met this burden and the trial court did not err in admitting the photographic evidence relied upon in support of the conviction. Substantial evidence supported the conviction. The conviction, therefore, is affirmed.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Defendant was cited for failure to stop at a red signal in violation of Vehicle Code section 21453, subdivision (a). The citation was generated through the City of Napa's red light photo enforcement system operated by Redflex. Defendant requested a court trial at which she appeared through an attorney who presented argument and evidence, including expert testimony and a copy of the City's contract with Redflex, on her behalf. The People presented their case through evidence and testimony presented by Officer John Brandt of the Napa Police Department. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court found defendant's guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant was convicted of the Vehicle Code violation and this appeal ensued.

DISCUSSION

1. The City's contract with Redflex is in violation of statute.

During trial, defendant presented as evidence the City's contract with Redflex, the contractor that provides red light camera services for the City of Napa. Section 1 of Exhibit "B" "Payment Provisions" to the contract provides that the City will pay a specified fixed monthly fee for each designated intersection. However, section 1.2 entitled "Cost Neutrality" provides, "Cost neutrality is assured to City - City will never be required to pay Redflex more than actual cash received." Section 1.2 goes on to describe a process whereby the City is obligated to pay Redflex monthly "to the extent of gross cash received by the City."

Defendant contends these payment provisions are in violation of Vehicle Code section 21455.5, subsection (g)(1), which provides, "A contract between a governmental agency and a manufacturer or supplier of automated enforcement equipment may not include provision for the payment or compensation to the manufacturer or supplier based on the number of citations generated, or as a percentage of the revenue generated, as a result of the use of the equipment authorized under this section." (Emphasis added.)

This court agrees with defendant that the contract's cost neutrality provision improperly based the City's payment to Redflex on the number of citations generated, at least to the extent there are not enough citations generated to cover the fixed fee in a given month. The contract implies that any outstanding balance unpaid in a given month due to a deficit of citations will be rolled over to invoices for subsequent months. However, that cumulative balance obligation is still limited "to the extent of gross cash received by the City" and, therefore, may never have to be paid if an insufficient number of citations are issued.*fn1

To illustrate, if only one citation was issued every month for the period of the contract, Redflex would never receive the full monthly payment it would otherwise receive if there were sufficient citations issued to cover the monthly fixed fee. In other words, Redflex's receipt of full payment is dependent on the issuance of a sufficient number of citations. The more citations issued, the more Redflex will receive, up to the cap. That type of arrangement has been prohibited by the Legislature's broad prohibition of payments based on the number of citations generated, and cannot be upheld.

The court finds that the Redflex contract violates Vehicle Code section 21455.5. Because the statute itself does not specify any consequence if a contract violates the section, the court must determine the effect that the unlawful ...


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