Traffic cameras are constitutional–at least if you don’t deny that you were driving

by Ryan Leemkuil | February 20, 2015

By Ryan Leemkuil

This morning, the Iowa Supreme Court joined a number of courts around the country in rejecting constitutional challenges to a city’s use of traffic cameras (commonly referred to as “automated traffic enforcement,” or “ATE”). The case, City of Sioux City v. Jacobsma, involved a challenge to Sioux City’s use of speed cameras. Justice Appel, writing for a unanimous Court, rejected arguments that the ATE system violated due process or the “inalienable rights” clause of the Iowa Constitution.

But the case might not be last word on ATE systems in Iowa. That’s because the owner of the car, Michael Jacobsma, admitted that he owned the vehicle and that it was caught speeding by a camera.  Jacobsma didn’t deny that he was driving at the time, and he offered no evidence that someone else was behind the wheel.  That factual basis limited the scope of the constitutional issues before the Court.  As Justice Appel explained:

[B]ecause Jacobsma offered no evidence beyond the stipulations that he was the owner of the vehicle and that the vehicle was involved in an infraction, the questions of whether and how a defendant may rebut a city’s case and whether the ordinance comports with due process when faced with evidence that someone other than the registered owner was operating the vehicle at the time of the infraction, pose purely academic questions that are not before the court.

What’s that mean? It means the outcome might be different if a vehicle owner comes forward with evidence that they weren’t driving at the time of the violation.  The Court didn’t say the outcome would be different, but we’ll have to wait for another case to find out.

In the meantime, we know that it doesn’t violate due process for a city to impose liability on the owner of a vehicle who presents no evidence that someone else was driving.  After all, cities have a clear public interest in safety, and imposing liability based on vehicle ownership and photographic evidence is not an irrational way of furthering that interest.

*Ryan Leemkuil is legal counsel at Fareway  Stores and before that was an attorney at Nyemaster Goode. 



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