Welcome to survivor island – Apopka style.
30 people appealed their red light camera tickets and signed up for the hearings to have their ticket dismissed.
These brave souls risked adding $250 to a $158 ticket for the right to make their case. They are more than doubling-down on their innocence when there is video evidence of their guilt. Will their defense hold up?
It’s a diverse group who braves this gauntlet. Young and old. Black and white. Male and female. The pursuit of justice knows no age, race, or gender boundaries.
Independent hearing officer Randy Means from Brevard County presided over the morning and afternoon hearings. He warned the defendants about ineffective defenses – such as “The light was blocked by a semi, I was going too fast to stop, I was distracted by my child”, etc. He went on to say that a guilty verdict would cost them an additional $250, while a no-contest plea would only cost them $50. If they were found not guilty, there is no charge and their $158 fine is dismissed.
The holy grail of verdicts.
The first defendant was also the most combative.
Julie stood before Means and watched on video as she turned right onto an early morning road without making a complete stop. The video proved it visually and statistically. However, Julie had a variety of reasons for her actions.
“I’m really familiar with this neighborhood and this road,” she explained. “It was early and no one is on the road at that time. My dog was in the car. I walk him in the morning. I looked both ways and I slowed down. I do this many times during the day on this road. I would never run through a red light.”
Means pointed out to Julie why a complete stop on red is important.
“So many critical accidents occur on illegal right turns,” he said. “Accidents involving pedestrians, skateboarders, walkers, joggers, because the driver’s attention is focused to the left because it’s the direction of oncoming vehicles. That’s why it’s important to make a complete stop.”
Means upheld the verdict and added $250 to Julie’s ticket.
“I’m sorry I don’t actually think that’s fair,” she said. “Is there an appeal process?”
Julie’s verdict caused two others to get up and plead no contest. “I ain’t playing that,” one defendant said as he pushed past the crowded room and paid his fine.
On to the next case…
Mikhail was in a left turn lane at a red light. He wanted to be in the lane to his right going straight, and under a green light, so he angled out of the left lane and continued forward.
“There was a glare from the sun, and I didn’t see the turn lane,” he said. “I recently moved here. I made sure there was no traffic. I’m not here for changing lanes. I’m here for running a red light – which I didn’t do.”
However, this is a violation because once a driver is within 100 feet of the intersection, they become subject to the light for that lane. Mikhail ran the red light in the controlling lane. It should also be noted that changing lanes while in an intersection is illegal, but the red light camera video can only be used to issue red light camera citations.
Means upheld the verdict and added $250 to Mikhail’s ticket.
“It’s better to make the left turn and make a U-Turn back,” Means said in a counseling tone. “That’s better than making a dangerous turn back into traffic.”
In all, there were 30 hearings scheduled for the morning and afternoon sessions. 14 people decided to plead no contest and pay $208. 16 people trudged forward, and 15 of them paid the additional $250 penalty for the case against them being upheld.
They had a range of reasons they were not guilty.
“I just moved here.”
“It was a very tall truck, and I didn’t see the light.”
“Well I didn’t want to turn onto 451, that would put me five miles off course.”
“I had my pregnant wife in the car, and that yellow light went red too fast.”
None of those reasons convinced Means.
The lone survivor of the two hearings was Ann.
“I did apply my brakes. There was traffic, but no pedestrians. I was safe and I slowed down,” Ann said in a determined voice.
Means watched the video three times as she pointed out her brake lights going on, despite not making a complete stop.
“What’s your driving record?” Means asked. “I haven’t had a ticket in 40 years,” she said.
“It’s a close call, but I’ll dismiss it,” said Means.
“Thank you,” said Ann.
“I could have gone the other way just as easily,” he said to Ann as she smiled and left the room.