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Responding to an Akron traffic case, the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of traffic cameras — though a dissenting opinion suggested the City of Akron’s judicial process needs a tune-up.

Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall initially filed an administrative appeal on behalf of his wife, who was cited for speeding in a school zone in 2008. The ticket was dismissed when city admitted it hadn’t posted a speed limit when it busted a batch of drivers.

Attorney Mendenhall, a perennial thorn in the city’s side, took the argument further, claiming no American government has the right to robo-enforce laws.

  • Mendenhall
“I think it’s a real overreach by the local government,” says Mendenhall. “My wife thinks this is becoming a surveillance society, and that the government should not be able to observe, will-nilly, people’s movements. Most people are not thinking of the ultimate consequences of having cameras on every corner.”

Mendenhall also claimed the administrative application of Akron’s ordinance violates due process. As it stands, when drivers are busted by traffic cameras, the city allows them to only two options: Pay the fine, or sign an affidavit stating that the vehicle was stolen or leased.

“We would like for the drivers to be able to put on a defense that they weren’t driving the vehicle at the time,” explains the lawyer. “You cannot challenge whether the equipment was working properly. The federal and state constitution guarantee the right to present a defense, and the city of Akron limits your options to two.”

Mendenhall says he has offered to settle the case with Akron, but the city has refused to allow other defenses. Akron’s attorney, former Akron Municipal Court Judge Stephen Fallis, did not return Scene’s calls.

Mendenhall says Akron puts the car on trial, then penalizes the owner, regardless of who was driving it. One federal judge agreed. Circuit Judge Eric Lee Clay dissented, writing, “Akron’s civil speed enforcement scheme violates due process by failing to provide vehicle owners with an opportunity to avoid liability by proving they did not commit the infraction.” — D.X. Ferris

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