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Jimenez v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

May 3, 2018

STATE OF FLORIDA, etc., et al., Respondents.


          Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal – Certified Great Public Importance Third District - Case Nos. 3D15-2271 and 3D15-2303 (Dade County)

          Marc A. Wites of Wites & Kapetan, P.A., Lighthouse Point, Florida; Stephen F. Rosenthal and Ramon A. Rasco of Podhurst Orseck, P.A., Miami, Florida; and Louis C. Arslanian of Gold & Associates, P.A., Hollywood, Florida, for Petitioner

          Edward G. Guedes and Samuel I. Zeskind of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, P.L., Coral Gables, Florida; and Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Amit Agarwal, Solicitor General, Rachel Nordby, Deputy Solicitor General, Tallahassee, Florida, and Robert Dietz, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida, for Respondent

          E. Bruce Johnson and Christopher J. Stearns of Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Kraig A. Conn and David Cruz of Florida League of Cities, Inc., Tallahassee, Florida, Amici Curiae Florida League of Cities, Inc., Village of Bal Harbor, City of Cocoa Beach, Town of Cutler Bay, City of Doral, Village of Key Biscayne, City of Miami Gardens, Village of Palm Springs, City of Sunrise, City of West Park, Town of Campbellton, City of Clermont, City of Coral Springs, Village of El Portal, City of Green Cove Springs, City of Hialeah Gardens, City of Holly Hill, Town of Juno Beach, City of Lauderdale Lakes, City of Miami Springs, City of Milton, North Bay Village, City of Oldsmar, City of Opa-locka, Town of Orange Park, City of Palatka, City of Palm Coast, City of Surfside, City of Sweetwater, City of Tamarac, City of West Miami, and City of Pembroke Pines ("Local Governments")

          PARIENTE, J.

         Luis Torres Jimenez received a traffic citation, based on images from a red light camera that showed him turning right while the traffic signal was red at an intersection marked no-turn-on-red. Jimenez does not dispute that he did, in fact, commit a traffic infraction. Instead, Jimenez challenges the legality of the City of Aventura's red light camera enforcement program, which includes the use of a third-party agent to review images from the City's red light cameras before sending them to City police to determine whether a traffic citation should be issued.

         The issue before the Court involves the interpretation of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, which grants local governments' traffic enforcement officers the power to issue citations for traffic infractions captured by red light cameras. See ch. 2010-80, § 5, Laws of Fla.; § 316.0083(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2014). In addition to this grant of authority, section 316.0083(1)(a) "does not prohibit a review of information" from red light cameras by a local government's authorized agent before issuance of the traffic citation by a trained traffic enforcement officer. § 316.0083(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2014) (emphasis added). In this case, this Court is asked to determine the meaning of the word "review," as used in section 316.0083(1)(a).

         The Third District Court of Appeal held that the City did not violate the statute because the City provided its authorized agent with written guidelines to aid its review of the red light camera images, and the decision whether to issue a traffic citation based on the images was made by the City's traffic enforcement officer. State ex rel. City of Aventura v. Jimenez, 211 So. 3d 158');">211 So. 3d 158, 160 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016). The Third District also certified a question of great public importance, which, for purposes of clarity, we rephrase as follows:[1]

Does a local government have the authority under section 316.0083(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2014), to contract with a private third-party vendor to review and sort information from red light cameras, in accordance with written guidelines provided by the local government, before sending that information to a trained traffic enforcement officer who determines whether probable cause exists and a citation should be issued?

Id. at 171. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla Const.

         For the reasons that follow, we answer the rephrased certified question in the affirmative. We therefore approve the Third District's decision.[2]


         The City's Red Light Camera Program

         The City entered into a contract with American Traffic Solutions, Inc. ("the Vendor") to service the City's red light camera enforcement program. Jimenez, 211 So. 3d at 159. The contract states in pertinent part:

Vendor shall act as City's agent for the limited purpose of making an initial determination of whether the recorded images should be forwarded to an Authorized Employee to determine whether an infraction has occurred and shall not forward for processing those recorded images that clearly fail to establish the occurrence of an infraction.

Id. at 162 (emphasis omitted). The Third District explained the Vendor's responsibilities under the contract:

Under the contract and its various amendments, the Vendor sorts the information and images generated by the system into two databases: a "working" database that the City police review to decide whether to issue a citation and a "non-working" database that the City police do not review for that purpose. Each image placed in the non-working database is reported, and the reason for placing the image in the non-working database is explained by the Vendor on a report screen. The report screen is periodically reviewed by the sergeant in charge of the City's review. The non-working database remains available and is occasionally accessed by the police for other investigations.
Each month, approximately 5,000 images are sorted into the working database and 3,000 are sorted into the non-working database. The police sergeant who oversees the City's review testified that the City would be overwhelmed if it was required to review all images generated by the system.
To sort images, the Vendor conducts a review that includes (1) confirming workable images exist (and the camera did not simply misfire); (2) examining the images to verify the license plate of the subject vehicle is legible; (3) using the license plate number in an automated process to obtain the identifying information of the registered owner from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles; (4) confirming the capture of date, time-of-day, speed, and timing-of-light data; (5) checking the "A" shot, which is a still photograph showing the vehicle approaching the intersection; (6) checking the "B" shot, which shows the vehicle in the intersection; and (7) checking the twelve-second video clip that shows the vehicle approaching and traveling through the intersection. The Vendor can pause the video and view it frame by frame.
A representative of the Vendor testified that the Vendor's task when reviewing images was to filter out images that were "useless." A clear example, she explained, is where a camera simply misfired and failed to record an image. Other examples are where the light displays green or where images fail to capture a vehicle's license plate number. These images were useless, she testified, because "the police cannot do anything with them." But other images are determined to be useless based on the specific and detailed contract language and City guidelines.

Id. at 161.

         To aid the Vendor in the sorting process, the City provided the Vendor with a set of guidelines, known as the "Business Rules Questionnaire." Id. at 162. The Third District explained:

The guidelines govern the Vendor's task of checking the "A" and "B" shots and the video clip. The guidelines were created by a process in which the Vendor identified scenarios or decision points and suggested alternative solutions to the City. For the most part, the City selected one of the alternative solutions suggested by the Vendor, but in several instances, the City created its own solutions.
For example, guideline 4.1 concerns the line of demarcation, which means the boundary of the intersection. This is the line used to evaluate the "A" shot, which is the photograph that shows the vehicle approaching the intersection. In reviewing this guideline, one must keep in mind that if the front tires of a vehicle crossed the boundary and entered the intersection when the light is still displaying green, the vehicle obviously is not running a red light. Conversely, if the front tires had not yet reached this line when the light displays red, the vehicle would appear to be running a red light (assuming the vehicle does not immediately stop within the edge of the intersection and wait for a green light). All of the City intersections containing red light cameras have painted stop lines. The Vendor provided four alternative suggestions for the line of demarcation: (1) the stop line; (2) the prolongation of the curb; (3) the crosswalk; and (4) whichever line the tires will hit first. The City adopted the first suggestion: the line of demarcation is the painted stop line. A similar process was followed for the other guidelines.

Id. at 162-63.

         As to the role of traffic enforcement officers in the City's red light camera program, the Third District explained:

The police officers assigned to red light camera enforcement access the working database by logging into the server using their own unique user identification and password. The officers decide to issue a citation based on the images in the same manner they decide to issue a roadside citation. If, after reviewing the photographs, video, and other information, the officer decides to issue a citation, the officer clicks the "accept" button on the screen. By doing so, the officer authorizes his or her electronic signature and badge number to appear on the notice and citation. The officer's review and determination in this regard is far from a mere rubber stamp. As the trial court expressly found, "[o]f the images reviewed by the City's police officers, only between sixty-five percent (65%) and seventy percent (70%) are approved as a violation."

Id. at 163 (alteration in original); see ยง 316.640(1)(b)3., Fla. Stat. (2014) (empowering local police departments to "designate employees as traffic infraction ...

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