We talked a lot on the Morning Show today about the new policy in Las Cruces whereby they are going to start shutting off your utilities if you don't pay tickets you received from a photo-enforced stoplight cam.

Apparently, in Las Cruces, there's a whole big bunch of money not being paid to the city and, like any good pimp knows, you cannot let your ho's get away with not paying you your money!

Here are a few of the problems as I see it. Some of them have to do specifically with Las Cruces and some apply here in El Paso...

Constitutional Gray Areas

You may not know this, but these photo-enforced tickets are NOT traffic violations. You're not being punished for a traffic violation. Here's what the elpasocity.gov website has to say about it:

Does a violation of this ordinance go on my driving record?

No.  City Ordinance 12.21 establishes a civil penalty against the owner of the vehicle, not the operator.  As such, it is not reported to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

So, it doesn't go on my driving record? So I could have a thousand of these "citations" and it wouldn't affect my insurance or my ability to renew my sticker?

That's absolutely correct.

What if I wasn’t driving the car when the violation occurred?

As stated above, City Ordinance 12.21 establishes liability against the registered owner, not the operator.

Wait ... what??

If they were going to punish you for a driving violation, they would have to prove that it was you driving the vehicle. Of course, they can't do that so they charge you with a civil violation.  Really, all they want is for you to pay the money and not raise a ruckus. That sounds like "fair and due process" to me (sarcasm font really needed here).

Again, from elpasocity.gov

Will the red light cameras take a picture of the driver of the vehicle?

No.  A violation of M.C. 12.21 is a civil violation assessed against the owner of the vehicle; it is not a criminal violation.  As such there is no need to identify the driver, and therefore no need to capture an image of the driver.

That amounts to shifting the burden of proof, which is illegal.  You're not being accused of violating the law, otherwise you would be presumed innocent and the burden of proof would be on them.  It's really a cynical, UN-American way to circumvent the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, in some cases , that ticket you get in the mail may not even be a ticket!  It might actually be a ...

snitch ticket

Wait ... what???  In some cases, people have received  a notice in the mail that looks very much like a traffic citation. I mean, it really, really looks like a traffic citation.

But it's not. It's what's called a "snitch ticket" and you can read more about them here.

They carry no legal validity. You can throw them out.  It's just a trick to get people to incriminate themselves.  It's the municipal version of computer spam or and on-line phishing scam.

Of course, in El Paso, they don't even pretend that they are trying to hold the guilty party responsible. That's why our municipal code is worded like it is: So they don't need to identify the person committing the "violation." They just want money from whoever they can find easily (IE: whoever the car is registered to. Think about that for just a second. It would be like if someone borrowed or stole your axe and then went out on a grisly murder spree. Using the photo-enforced logic, the authorities wouldn't even bother to look for the axe murderer. They'd only be interested in punishing the owner of the axe.  Does that make even the slightest bit of sense?)

won't pay? We'll punish your entire family!!

This is what this really amounts to when you think about it. Say you live in a household in Las Cruces with your spouse, 3 kids, and your elderly grandmother. In what alternate universe is it conceivably fair that your kids have to stop bathing and Grandma has to freeze because MOM didn't pay her traffic ticket (which we've already established isn't even a ticket in the first place) and they came and shut of the utilities?

What if you live with a roommate and you split the bills? Maybe, he pays for cable and you pay the water. Then, he doesn't pay his tickets (not really tickets). So they come over and shut off the water that you paid for but not the cable that he paid for?  Who ,after thinking it through for a few seconds, still thought this seemed like a fair way to handle things??

another scenario that will certainly come true ...

Say you are a homeowner in Las Cruces. You and your family never, never, ever run red lights or make illegal turns.  However, you have a garage apartment or a detached cottage that you rent out to a college student. Now say that the college student racks up a bunch of these quasi-pseudo-ticketlike-semi-violations. Do you see where this is going? All of the sudden you wake up and your utilities are shut off because you share an address with the scofflaw college student!! How is that fair??  Then, say your renter decides to move out without giving you a forwarding address.  Until all those pretend tickets were paid for, and they may not even allow you to make the payments without a metric ton of red-tape, you can't get your utilities turned back on.

aren't we supposed to have some say in the way our lives are governed?

I know it's not practical to put every single law or ordinance to a vote.  But several cities and towns have done exactly that.  You can read about cities and counties and even states that have held a public referendum on red-light cameras here.

Did anybody ever ask you if you thought it was a good idea? I'm talking to you, Las Cruces but also to you, El Paso.

I couldn't help but notice all of the places that did put it to vote voted it down. Could that be that regular people who don't stand to gain financially are not comfortable with a program that seems like such an obvious cash-grab by elected and unelected bureaucrats who need to increase their revenue stream despite having to really twist and manipulate the Constitution? As you can tell by the sheer length of that last sentence (47 words!) that's the way I feel.

it's an obvious attempt to deprive due process

We kind of touched on this earlier. When you are accused of doing something illegal you have certain rights that are guaranteed. Right to face one's accuser (a camera??), right to a trial, presumption of innocence ... these rights and many others are articulated in the 5th and 14th amendments.

I recall when these cameras were first being put up in El Paso. We had on the air with us Sheriff Wiles, who was Chief of Police at the time. I remember asking him if the ordeal of fighting a red light camera ticket ... going to court, hiring a lawyer, spending an entire day convincing a system that presumes  you are guilty ... would be worth it to anyone?

"Won't people just give up and decide it's easier to just pay the ticket and have done with it," I asked.

"That's what we're counting on," was his reply.

What a con-game.

He described the legal problems inherent with the camera laws as something one learns in "law school 101." The only reason more people don't fight these fines, he said, is that it is easier to pay the fine rather than to hire a lawyer and go to court.