Motorists Can Beat Speeding Tickets – Chances Better Against Cameras

Carol Sowers, The Arizona Republic
June 5, 2006

Motorists flashed by speed cameras on Scottsdale streets last year were nearly twice as likely to beat their tickets in court than those nabbed by police officers.

But with six fixed cameras patrolling Scottsdale’s stretch of Loop 101, the City Court could see more than 111,800 additional tickets a year, meaning more drivers will have to decide whether to pay their fine, go to driving school or plead their case in front of a judge.

Most defendants stay clear of court, simply paying the average $157 fine or signing up for defensive-driving school.

However an Arizona Republic analysis found that of the nearly 46,700 tickets generated by speed cameras on Scottsdale streets last year, 412 defendants went to court and 13 percent, or 52 people, walked out with no fine.

By comparison, officers wrote 13,106 speeding tickets last year on Scottsdale streets. Of those, 411 took their cases to court and nearly 7 percent, or 27, won.

Motorists speeding through Scottsdale are not alone in beating the odds on a photo-enforcement ticket. Speeders in Mesa are nearly twice as likely to wiggle out of camera citations, and the odds are almost even in Phoenix.

But be wary in Tempe, where drivers are more than twice as likely to beat a ticket issued by an officer than one generated by a speed camera.

Scottsdale judges would not discuss why they dismiss cases, and court records don’t give a reason.

But a review of taped hearings shows that Scottsdale judges have dumped photo-enforcement tickets for a variety of reasons, including bad brakes, wet streets and an unsteady foot on the clutch.

Mistaken identity

Roxana Obregoso of Paradise Valley was one of the 13 percent who beat her photo-enforcement ticket. She argued that she wasn’t driving the speeding car.

Obregoso was supposedly caught on camera driving 59 mph in a 45 mph zone on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, at 8:50 p.m. on March 1, 2005.

Trouble is, Obregoso told the judge, she has never out that late because she is home caring for her baby.

Besides, she said, she wears glasses to drive. The woman behind the wheel wasn’t wearing specs.

Turns out the speedy driver was Obregoso’s nanny.

Case dismissed.

Identifying drivers and matching them to the speeding car can be a tricky legal issue.

Phoenix lawyer Craig Gillespie proved that when he fought two photo-enforcement tickets on Dec. 28, 2004.

He was flashed twice, once at Scottsdale Road and Wilshire Street, and again at 66th Street and Osborn Road.

“The judge tossed one ticket because the picture was of such poor quality,” he said.

He argued that the second ticket was illegal because Redflex Traffic Systems, which operates Scottsdale’s speed cameras, was not matching camera images to the driver’s license.

The Scottsdale judge disagreed. Gillespie appealed to Maricopa County Superior Court, where Judge Margaret Downie ruled in part that Scottsdale was violating state law by not comparing the photos.

“Under this system, no one can certify with the slightest degree of accuracy or truthfulness that the person receiving the ticket is the actual driver,” Downie wrote in her decision. “There is no human involvement certification process whatever.”

She ordered the Scottsdale judge to dismiss the ticket.

Caron Close, Scottsdale’s top prosecutor, said the decision does not set a precedent, but “Scottsdale is not ignoring it.”

Bruce Kalin, who administers Redflex’s $2 million contract for Scottsdale police, said that over the past three years, the company has gone from a one-shift-a-day operation to round-the-clock staffing, in part because of the volume of Loop 101 tickets.

Studying speed

Downie also ruled in another Scottsdale photo-enforcement case appealed by Craig Orent, a federal public defender in Phoenix.

Orent was snapped driving 11 miles over the 35 mph speed limit on Miller Road, near Oak Street, on Jan. 10.

Orent argued that the ticket was invalid because Scottsdale traffic engineers had not done a study setting the speed limit at 35 mph, so no one could say whether his speed was reasonable or prudent. The Scottsdale judge didn’t buy his argument.

Orent appealed. Downie agreed that the speed study should have been considered and ordered Scottsdale to dismiss the case.

Tom Kruesh of Chandler didn’t hire a lawyer, but he used the same reasonable-and-prudent argument to kick his ticket.

“I knew I could win this,” he said.

He was flashed at 62 mph in a 50 mph zone about midnight on Oct. 21 near Pima and Pinnacle Peak roads.

He told Scottsdale Pro Tem Judge James Emery that on one part of the road the speed was posted at 55 mph.

“So I set my cruise control to 58 mph, and when I got to the intersection, the (camera) light flashed and it was a surprise to me. ”

Emery said he was convinced that Kruesh was driving 62 mph. Still, he told Kruesh his speed at that time of night was “imprudent but not necessarily unreasonable.”

Emery dismissed the ticket but gave Kruesh some free legal advice.

“I implore you to watch your speed and don’t depend upon your cruise control,” Emery said. “Cruise control is not a defense.”

Can you beat that speeding ticket?

The odds of beating a photo-enforcement ticket vs. an officer-issued ticket vary from city to city.

The Arizona Republic looked at court data from the following cities to see what percentage of contested speeding tickets were dismissed by city judges.

Speed camera: 13 percent.
Officer issued: 7 percent.

Speed camera: 49 percent.
Officer issued: 48 percent.

Speed camera: 33 percent.
Officer issued: 19 percent.

Speed camera: 18 percent.
Officer issued: 44 percent.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-6846.