After two hearings it seems apparent that when it comes to red light camera cases, the City of Sugar Land is not first and foremost interested in truth, but fines; revenues, not justice; money, not safety.
A few months ago, I received a $75 ticket in the mail after my vehicle was photographed making a right turn at the intersection of West Airport and Eldridge Road. The photograph showed a clear intersession and no on-coming traffic, when the light changed to red and the driver made a safe right turn.
My case was argued before an administrative adjudicative hearing officer. He was told that although “I am the registered owner of the vehicle photographed by the red light camera, I was truthfully and honestly not the driver at the time or date or place in question.”
Instead of dismissing the case, the officer had me to sit and watch a video of the violation. Then, he determined that I was liable of the offense.
The case was appealed in the City of Sugar Land Municipal Court; however, Associate Judge Jim Gascogne upheld the decision of the hearing officer. The judge ruled that even if I was telling the truth, I was still liable and responsible for the fine of $75.
When asked, if one refuses to pay the fine, what would be the civil penalty? The judge quickly adjudicated, a “warrant for an arrest.” Then, he changed his mind when I pressed the issue. He said that he had made “a mistake.”
From my vantage point, this was no mistake. It was intentional and simply a false-threat to coerce and extort payment, because according to the city’s own website: “An automated traffic safety camera is a non-criminal offense for which you cannot go to jail.”
My present option is to appeal the case, but I perceive no hope of justice in the City of Sugar Land. The appeal process seems nothing more than a formality and a waste of time. I have asked myself, “Can you have a fair hearing when you are dealing with the same court, the same judge, and the same prosecutor who appear to care nothing about what you have to say, only with what you have to pay?”
My reasons are obvious. In my court hearing, the last on the docket for the day, I noticed:
No rights of defenders.
No warning issued for first time violators.
No provision made for an individual who petitioned the court for a jury trial.
No compassion for a senior citizen who begged, “I have never had a traffic ticket in my life. Pardon the fine. Let me do some kind of community service.” The judge said, “No.”
No break for a Sugar Land elderly resident who appealed for a reduction in fine due to financial constraints.
No defense accepted even with a burden of evidence that the registered owners were out of the county or overseas on the date and time of the offense.
The bottom line for the City of Sugar Land is $75 at all cost. And although I believe in traffic safety and upholding the law, I don’t feel justified in paying a fine for an offense I did not commit.
John Z. Reid