West Valley Justice of the Peace John Keegan, a former state legislator and Peoria mayor, rocked Arizona's legal world with his recent ruling that the statute authorizing highway speed cameras is "unconstitutional and unenforceable within the jurisdiction of this court."
The statute sets a flat fine of $181.50, regardless of how fast the driver is speeding or whether the excessive speed constitutes a civil or criminal penalty. By contrast, drivers who are issued speeding citations by police officers have their matters adjudicated by courts and are assessed a wide range of fines, none of which are $181.50.
In other words, two people exceeding the posted limit at the same speed in the same location will receive different fines depending on whether they were cited by a camera or a human being. Keegan concluded that such a regime violates the state and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the laws.
Other constitutional problems abound. Unlike other speeding tickets, photo-radar infractions do not appear on drivers' records. Also, motorists can receive multiple successive photo-radar tickets for a single speeding violation, i.e. if they are caught by more than one camera on the same stretch of freeway. Both anomalies raise equal protection concerns. Moreover, the new fines were imposed without the two-thirds legislative voted required by the state constitution. And by depriving judges of any discretion, the statute turns judges into tax collectors, implicating the constitutional separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches.
Cameras have a place in law-enforcement. But here they are used primarily to generate revenue, at a sacrifice of important constitutional principles. Like many justices of the peace, John Keegan is not a lawyer. But in this instance, common sense and fairness are a useful substitute for a law degree.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
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