Farmington attorney Victor Titus fights Albuquerque camera law
— By Steve Lynn — The Daily Times
Posted: 05/11/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT
FARMINGTON — A Farmington attorney is fighting tickets he received after his cars were filmed speeding through intersections, and he's warning the city of Farmington against installing its own cameras. Victor Titus, of Titus & Murphy Law Firm, has filed in the New Mexico Court of Appeals what he believes is the first legal claim of its kind against Albuquerque's camera law after a lower court rejected his claim. Titus contends Albuquerque's law, which authorizes the city to enforce traffic laws with cameras, violates the U.S. Constitution and state law.
Titus is battling the $100 tickets he received in the mail showing his cars speeding through Albuquerque intersections in October 2006 and August 2007. He said he wasn't driving either time.
"I don't know whether it was my daughter or one of her friends," Titus said. "I purposely haven't asked."
Titus filed his appeal April 27 and sent it a few days later to city of Farmington officials with a letter encouraging them not to pass a proposed law authorizing a camera program. He has yet to hear back from the court or from city officials.
Albuquerque Assistant City Attorney Mike Garcia thinks Titus' claim is the first one filed in the New Mexico Court of Appeals challenging the city's camera program.
But the city of Albuquerque believes its camera program is constitutional and that it's legal under New Mexico law, Garcia said.
Bernalillo County judges upheld the city's law every time it was
challenged, he said. Titus' argument centers on his claim that the city of Albuquerque cannot declare car owners a nuisance. The city makes speeding a civil violation through a state nuisance law. But the city does not photograph drivers, only vehicles and their license plates.
"Under the logic that they use, would the owner of a gun be responsible for a person who shoots it?" he said.
Albuquerque's law also violates a person's constitutional right to a trial and to be presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt when accused of a crime, according to Titus' claim.
"You even have a right to contest a parking citation in criminal court," Titus said.
Albuquerque's law also requires people who weren't driving their vehicles to name the person who was driving.
"While trying to turn all Americans into snitches has had some post (Sept. 11) popularity within the federal government, the... process underscores the lack of ability by the city to meet any burden of proof," Titus wrote.
People are not required prove their innocence; authorities must prove their guilt, according to Titus' claim.
State legislators are "going to have to change some laws in New Mexico to make it lawful, and they haven't done it," Titus said.
Titus' legal arguments could complicate the city of Farmington's plans to install its own cameras.
The city of Farmington also would rely on the state's nuisance law. And like Albuquerque, Farmington would not photograph drivers; nor would it allow trials. The law also would require vehicle owners to name other drivers who ran red lights or speeded in owners' vehicles.
Farmington city councilors have discussed locating cameras at dangerous intersections for months and they are scheduled to decide whether to pass the law authorizing them at a meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Approval of the cameras was expected to go smoothly with only Councilwoman Mary Fischer dissenting versus three other councilors supporting the measure. Mayor Bill Standley, who would cast any tie-breaking vote, also wants red light cameras.
However, Councilman Jason Sandel has reconsidered since receiving the legal claim Titus sent him and Standley.
Titus, a well-respected attorney, and other people have raised significant legal questions about camera laws, Sandel said.
"While I was strongly in favor of red light cameras from a public safety perspective, I am now reevaluating my position because I don't believe that any law should violate the Constitution," Sandel said.
City Attorney Jay Burnham did not return a phone message seeking comment. Burnham said in a meeting earlier this month he is aware of legal challenges to red light cameras throughout the country. Most have failed.
"Ninety-nine percent of the cases, they've been upheld," Burnham said during the meeting when city officials pitched their program to around a dozen people.
Titus called Farmington's proposed law a "bad idea."
"It's against the law," he said. "I would encourage them to take a hard look at it."
Steve Lynn: firstname.lastname@example.org