Column: Is turning right on a red light your California birthright? Absolutely not! A federal court ruled unanimously Monday that drivers who run red lights are still subject to criminal penalties and that those who knowingly violate the law will have their cars impounded for the duration of the violation, not just their citation.
In the case before the court were a man and woman who had been cited for running a red light. After spending $2,000 in attorney fees fighting the violation, the couple took their case up to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Times reported:
The two were accused of running a red light in front of the Santa Cruz County sheriff’s office in February 2009. They contended in federal court that the light turned green without them stopping for a light, so they weren’t doing anything wrong.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with the couple and held last week the couple should not have had to pay $2,000 in legal fees in the initial case.
“This is bad news for Californians who want to live in a functioning democracy where one may not drive on the left at a red light. The decision from the court is a step in the right direction, but it’s too little, too late for people who really have the right to a safe and affordable drive on the left,” said Tom Homan, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.
“The court found that running a red light is simply a civil infraction and not a crime, so if you’re a California resident and want to be safe on the roads, don’t be a jerk to people.”
U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole concurred with Leighton’s decision and called the ruling “a welcome correction to the way civil infractions were treated in the U.S. for a long time.”
“The Court’s decision here is a reminder to law enforcement officers the public has the right to be free from unlawful and unsafe police stops, searches and seizures,” Cole said. “The decision recognizes that civil infractions are often nothing more than small nuisances that may have serious consequences to innocent people.