UPDATE 10/19/2005: 9 months after the ticket, I got the appeal decision in the mail. I won!
Like many cities in California, San Francisco has been using Automated Enforcement Systems (a.k.a. “Red Light Cameras”) at many of its intersections for several years now. Although the stated purpose is (of course) for safety, the real reason is revenue. If you are the unlucky recipient of one of the citations in the mail (as yours truly recently was) then this website is for you. It explains your options and relates my experience with the San Francisco court system.
- The picture isn’t of you. The registered owner is who gets sent the ticket. If the picture is not of you, sign the attached affidavit saying that the picture isn’t of you. Don’t lie — you’re saying under the penalty of purjury that it’s not you in the ticket. DO NOT, however, TELL THEM WHO IS IN THE PICTURE. It’s their job to figure that out, not yours. Don’t rat out your friends and family.
- Pay it. If $371 is worth less to you than a lost morning in court, then just pay the ticket and move on. You may or may not want to do traffic school to keep the points from appearing on your license. While I’ve never done it myself, I hear the on-line version of traffic school is fairly painless.
- TrialÂ + Traffic school. This is probably the best option for most people. Go to the clerk.Â Post bail (the amount of your ticket) and plead not-guilty.Â Â Get a time for trial.Â SHOW UP ON TIME. When the court session starts, the clerk will allow you to have your fine reduced to only $50 if you take traffic school (with a $30 fee). For a total of $80, you’re done and the points are not added to your license. NOTE: If you’ve already done traffic school in the past 18 months, you’re not eligible to do it again. Sorry.
- Plead not-guilty. Lots of options here. You can skip the arraignment and demand your right to a speedy trial (within 45 days) by going to the clerk and posting the $371 bond. Sometimes, due to the short notice, the officer isn’t properly subpoenaed and won’t know that he/she needs to testify against you (this happened in my case). If the officer doesn’t appear to testify, your case is dismissed. Or, the officer could already be in court to testify against other people and will realize that she needs to testify against you too, and will testify anyway (yep, this happened to me).Or, you can go to your arraignment and plead not-guilty there. This gives you the chance to make pre-trial motions. This makes the process very drawn-out — expect your trial date to be many months in the future.
NOTE WELL: This takes a lot of time and will really try your patience. DO NOT EXPECT TO WIN. In fact, you should expect to lose. Sorry, but the trial court for traffic and other infractions in San Francisco assumes GUILT. Moreover, the red light camera systems are considered infallible and therefore beyond reproach. AGAIN, YOU WILL LOSE.
Don’t waste your time
- People often say that with traffic cases you should plead not-guilty and take your chances that the officer won’t show up. (If the officer doesn’t show up, your case is immediately dismissed.) I would agree with this strategy for all non-red light camera tickets. However, from what I can tell, the officers assisting with the red light camera prosecutions do not have normal police “beats”, and instead have a desk job, probably in the same building. This means they have a high liklihood of showing up.
- If you are planning to contend that you don’t run red lights, you are a safe driver, and you’ve never done it before, do not waste your time. (Most murderers haven’t murdered anyone before, either.) You will be found GUILTY. Your fine will be lowered to $300, but they won’t grant you traffic school. You are better off taking the $80 buy-off deal mentioned above.
- If you are planning to contend that the light was really yellow and the camera was wrong or broken, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME. You will be found GUILTY. I promise. Don’t forget the the cameras are considered infallible by the trial court judge. Even if it was broken!
Argue the law
While the cameras themselves might be considered infallible, the city has errored in the way they are set up and operated. You should expect to LOSE at trial even if you object to the evidence on these grounds. HOWEVER, these MAY help you get your ticket overturned in appeal. That’s right, if you want any chance of winning, you will have to APPEAL. This takes a lot of time and energy. If you’re fed up and willing to put in the time it takes to appeal, then go ahead and plead not-guilty. Otherwise, don’t waste your time and take the $80 buy-out deal.
What to do:
- Buy the book Fight Your Ticket in California from Nolo Press. Make sure you get thee one specifically for California.
- Go to the Hall of Justice (850 Bryant St.) with a copy of your citation many weeks before your trial. Parking hint: You can park on 6th street after 9am. so show up at 8:59 and you’ll have all the free parking you want. Otherwise you might have to pay the garages that charge $6 for the first 1/2 hour. Go to the 5th floor, turn right at the hallway, and go to the end. This is the Police Legal department. Tell the friendly officers (really, they have always been very friendly in this office) that you want to fill out an “Informal discovery request”. They will give you a short form. Fill it out, and the City’s “Photo prosecution packet” will be sent to you. This is exactly what they will present at trial, which is always a good thing to have beforehand.
(For a good overview of many of these issues, read Highwayrobbery.net).
- The city has not property issued warning tickets as required by 21455.5. CVC (California vehicle code) 21455.5 allows cities to put up Automated Enforcement Systems if they follow the guidelines set forth in the statue. One of the statutes is that “Prior to issuing citations under this section, a local jurisdiction utilizing an automated traffic enforcement system shall commence a program to issue only warning notices for 30 days.” While most cities (I believe San Francisco is included) took this to mean warning tickets only needed to be issued 30 days before the first camera in a city, a recent court ruling in Southern California mandated that EACH camera is succeptible to the 30-day rule. At trial, I suggest asking the prosecution’s witness (the officer) if they issued only warning tickets for the first 30 days of YOUR camera’s operation.
- CVC 21455.5 also has very strict requirement with respect to intersection signage. 21455.5(a) basically says the city has to label an AES-enabled intersection from all sides. There is one exception: if they choose not to label the intersection from all sides, then it can “posts signs at all major entrances to the city, including, at a minimum, freeways, bridges, and state highway routes.” Note that San Francisco DOES NOT post the required signs on major city entrances like bridges, freeways, and state highway routes. Instead, they choose to label major freeway exits. This is not compliant with the letter or the spirit of the law. While some AES-enforced intersections ARE labeled with signage in all direction, many are completely un-labeled meaning the city is falling back on the fact that they think they’ve labeled the “freeways, bridges, and state highway routes”. If you bring this up at trial (as I did) expect to LOSE. By bringing it up at trial, though, you can use it in your appeal.
- Interesting pre-trial motions. Present them at your arraignment. They probably won’t work, but might be useful ammunition during your appeal.
- Try to subpoena the camera’s “source code”. The camera is more than a camera. It’s a computer. You have the right to question your accuser in court. Your accuser is this computer. You should have the right to know exactly how it is programmed. If this motion is granted, you will probably never see the “source code” (it’s a trade secret) and therefore I would expect the prosecution to drop the charges. It’s worth a shot. It will probably help your case if you know how (ie have the credentials) to interpet any “source code” that you might receive.
- The camera is disallowed under California’s “Speed trap” laws. This is a very interesting one, and will take further research. CVC 40801 forbids speed traps in California. “What does this have to do with Red Light Cameras?” you might ask. Well, let me tell you. CVC 40801 says “No peace officer or other person shall use a speed trap in arresting, or participating or assisting in the arrest of, any person for any alleged violation of this code nor shall any speed trap be used in securing evidence as to the speed of any vehicle for the purpose of an arrest or prosecution under this code.” CVS 40802 says “A particular section of a highway measured as to distance and with boundaries marked, designated, or otherwise determined in order that the speed of a vehicle may be calculated by securing the time it takes the vehicle to travel the known distance.” What does this mean to you? Well, the Red Light Computer decided to take a picture of you because you were headed for the intersection at a rate of speed high enough to assume that you were going to go past the ‘stop line’. It knew this because there are coils of wire in the pavement in each lane that are a set distance apart. It calculated your speed by securing the time it takes your vehicle to travel the known distance. Sound familiar? CVC 40801 now says they can’t use this evidence to prosecute you. But they did anyway, and now you have grounds to fight it. I didn’t try this angle, but I have a feeling you’ll LOSE if you do. But I want to hear about how it went, so write to me.
I’d love to hear from you. Write to me at aren /at/ thesandersens dotcom with your experiences.
933 thoughts on “San Francisco Red Light Camera Tickets”
Today as I was trying to make a left turn the light was on green and I was already in the middle of street but there was a lot of traffic on the opposite side that I could make the left turn, the light changed and I saw the flash behind me how likely do you think I will get a ticket and If you think I could have it dismiss
Recently received a red light photo ticket in Oakland (West Oakland near Market). Pictures and videos are clear that I made a right on a red without fully stopping.
My plan was to go in and try to get the fine reduced from $550 (yikes!). I have a clean record so I want to do traffic school to keep it clean.
Is the tactic still to go to an arraignment and plead guilty? Or do they offer you a fine reduction plus traffic school on the spot?
Any feedback would be appreciated.
So I received a right light ticket on mission street and 5th.
ticket for $490
which is ridiculous
on the citation sheet, it says Red Sec: 0.3
I actually thought i was able to cross the line before it turned red, and now I have a traffic ticket
I recently had to take traffic school within 18 months, so I am not eligible for traffic school anymore. On top of that since i can’t attend traffic school and if i don’t contest this ticket there is a chance I can get 1 point on my license (which obviously means increase in my insurance and stays on my license for about 3 years).
I had the option of taking a reduced fee of $285 (about $200 off) but with the 1pt on my license
My only option is to fight this ticket. And hope for the best.
I was told by a friend that because I can reschedule my trial, try to reschedule it so it is after the 18th month period? so that I would be eligible for traffic school
Is this trick valid?
If not, is there any thing i can do when I go to court sign I already did the arraignment and scheduled on the date of March 20th.
My other option was using other resources like websites that help contest these tickets and go through the process for you. And they guarantee your money back if you don’t win the case. At least i feel they are experts. Any thoughts on that?
thank you in advance for providing helpful tips!
As I mentioned above I got an Oakland Red Light Camera ticket about a month ago. Totally guilty and the evidence was clear (both pictures and video of the event). I am eligible for traffic school.
I went to the court house in Oakland today and registered for Walk-in court, and went to the 2PM walk-in court session the same day. This is essentially an arraignment hearing. The called all the red-light camera offenders as one group toward the end of the session. The Judge explained that she would offer us a reduced fine plus traffic school if we were eligible. Got called to the judge, asked for traffic school and reduced fine. Paid my fine and left. The fine reduction was about $125 dollars, Reduced from $549 to $426 (this is including the traffic school fee you are required to pay). So I guess an ok outcome considering. Moral of the story, if you have the time to go down there, do it and save yourself a little money. Throwing on a suit and being respectful doesn’t hurt either.
I got Red Light Camera ticket for right turn last year and I changed court date until today. It is amazing to see how SF makes money so easy to coerce and to collect $50 administration fee for every ticket you can see how many tickets every day 24/7. Then all people are told by court they will give good deal to those citizens who are eligible for traffic school and reduce the fine fee to half depend on original fees. My ticket reduce to $285 from $495 plus $50 total $335 that not include traffic school fee. Before I take this deal, I ask the staff in court room he tell me the court will find guilty anyway, do not fight and pay the fee as today deal.
I do not think most of people really violate, the fact the government violate people’s rights to collect crazy fees…
I see a lot of folks mentioning violations where they made a right turn at a red.
I received a red light ticket for the same violation at Howard and 9th. I went to court to contest, and the judge actually pulled up the video and said that failure to stop at a red before making a right hand turn is actually a different violation than going straight through an intersection. He actually cited the violation number [21453(a) versus 21453(b)], said instead of being a $500 fine that it’s a $250 fine, then said if I pled guilty he would reduce it to $114.
Just a heads up that you should all be aware of this as the cameras don’t make the distinction and will charge you with the worse of the two infractions. Pretty diabolical!
I haven’t gotten a ticket since I was 16 and now at 30 I have gotten two in two months!!!! I paid my first ticket in full (didn’t think to google how to fight it) plus the court fee for traffic school. I have not yet gone to traffic school though. Is it still possible to do the trial + traffic school option for my second ticket to get the reduced fine? Also, to be clear, I am supposed to plead NOT GUILTY and then go to trial and take the traffic school option? Thanks for your help!
I was just driving on Fell (and Masonic) and I noticed two flashes before I entered the intersection.
I stopped before the second flash in the middle of the crosswalk and never entered the intersection. I was really confused the whole time. I wasn’t sure if the flash was for me or for other people. I didn’t realize that there was a red arrow until later. In any case, I stopped in the crosswalk and that is a violation.
The car is in my husband’s name and I don’t even want him to know about this (he’s having too much work lately :-(. I wonder what I should do if I get the ticket. I’ll keep you inform. Thanks for this blog!
I just wrote a comment, but it didn’t post. I was saying:
I was just driving on Fell (and Masonic) and noticed two flashes. I stopped before the second flash in the middle of the crosswalk (I never entered the intersection).
The car in in my husband’s name and I don’t want this to stress him at all. I wonder what I should do if I get a ticket. I’ll write an update in a couple of weeks.
Thanks for this blog. This is really helpful!
On the April 15, 2014 agenda of the San Francisco MTA Board is a staff recommendation to extend the red light camera program for another two years. The staff report is available on the sfmta.com website, under item 10.6 of the agenda. The public will be allowed to speak to the item. If you wish to send them a note, it can be addressed to Roberta.Boomer@sfmta.com
So, did you initially plead “Not Guilty” and then reappear another day to speak to the judge?
I got a red light ticket back in April 2013 and completely unaware of it till last week. I was checking the fine amount for a bicycle citation I got.
First I never received any document/citation in mail to my address.
Second, when I went down to 850 Bryant, I was told its on hold.
Could you please tell me what does it mean that my ticket is on “hold”? its been more than a year, can I do something about it?
Roger and everyone – could somebody please help me answer my question?
I have found this blog – and particularly the often referenced highway robbery site – incredibly informative so decided to post my very recent experience with fighting a red light tick:
I received a red light camera tick for allegedly rolling through a right turn on red at 27th and Northgate in Oakland. Ticket was legit, video evidence damning, $600 something bucks all told including traffic school, etc. I decided to fight it via TBD due to picture on ticket being only of driver’s profile and somewhat blurry. I posted bail, filled out all forms (TR-205, etc.), typed up my argument, mailed it all in via certified mail with time to spare and, roughly a week later, received notice that I had been found not guilty due to insufficient photographic evidence. So… Don’t be afraid to fight it, especially when fine is so insanely high. Honestly, if it was 200 or less probably would have paid up right away to avoid headache of filing and saved the clerk some paperwork. Thanks again to all who post on this blog and especially to the folks that run it and answer all the q’s!
I got a letter today stating that I ran a red light at 7th and Howard. 4 enclosed pictures of my car. Since the car is making a right turn in fact the close up shot shows nothing of face, only the drivers side doorjam, while a pic of the car at the light shows only a glaring windshield. I cannot see myself nor identify anyone in these. Went to the website with the code enclosed and looked at three pics there; same at max zoom.
Am I correct to think there is no basis to say this is me, particularly if I claim to have no recollection and claim that my brother borrowed the car that day I believe? Will a written denial stating this do the trick as there is no photo evidence of who on earth is in that image. Literally no way to tell from these images.
No. I went to my first court date which was the arraignment and the judge told us he would cut the fine in half for anybody who pled guilty.
is there a clear mabye polarized film we can all apply to block this invasion of privacy.
The court is no longer accepting not guilty pleas. I find this hard to believe, but it is true it seems. Now I am in an unending loop of affidavit between my brother and I, both of whom deny it. Can this go on forever? Is there really no more ability to plead not guilty? The folks at 850 Bryant say the judge is referring all not guilty plea’s to sfmta, that he refuses to hear them. I had them show me the court memo stating as much. I asked why the instructions on the notice I received indicate differently. They said that the form is the DAs responsibility to make current and that the DAs office has yet to do so.
The Land of the Free and the home of the brave is written in 1814.
After 200 years later, the Land of FEE and the home of Polices replace its original words…
I got a red light ticket turning right on mission @ 7th st. Westbound. The problem at that intersection (as with most bust ones downtown) pedestrians enter the intersection when I signals indicate “don’t walk”. At that particular intersection- many homeless and miscreants intentionally cross the street when there are 2 seconds left to cross the street.
On the day I got my ticket- a homeless with his shopping cart was blocking intersection. 6 cars trying to turn- 4 turned into the far outside lane (illegal) and the last two cars- mine were trying to turn out of a marked “bus only” lane.
I was stopped 25 feet from intersection stopped- the light turned yellow and I started the turn. There is a 2 second delay for cross traffic to proceed- allowing for vehicles to still turn. Flash flash.
This is the issue- I called the clerk to make appointment to review the camera footage. The clerk old me the pics on my notice were the footage.
Then I called the sfpd division about the blurry pic- and they told me the pic on their footage clearly identifies the face.
So- I am going to do what you instructed- request by mail hearing- go down to 850 Bryant and request discovery from sfpd legal. I am also going to request source code.
Everyone beware- if you contest because the pic they sent you blurry- you are going to probably lose because sfpd footage is clearer.
Thank you everyone for your comments. These intersections are speed traps- and the pedestrian bike traffic needs more enforcement than autos.
This really needs addressing- “don’t walk” per Cvc means don’t enter crosswalk or intersection. Pedestrians in sf have even my told the wrong information that The “don’t walk” signal is “suggestive” .
Why? Because sfmta wants to get more tickets for autos trying to turn on red lights- because pedestrians homeless bikes and miscreants block the intersections when the auto has the right of way- the light is green – and the “don’t walk” signal is flashing- people can’t simply walk into the street.
They are “jaywalking” . Bikes need to be ticketed too- and the sensors do not pick up bikes.
Did the camera at 6th and Bryant get removed? Does anyone know why? I got a violation there and I’m wondering if it was removed because something was wrong with it.
And is the judge really not accepting not guilty pleas, as stated above?
As this website gave me much comfort after receiving a red light camera ticket (which are so mean and terribly invasive,) I wanted to post about my experiences so far.
So I was turning left at the intersection of 7th and Mission during horrible rush hour, and that’s when they snapped the picture. Something I thought was legal, but I digress.
Today I went to 850 Bryant room 145 and spoke to the woman about my options as I really couldn’t afford to pay the ticket at this time. She said that if I go to court (get there early,) I could plead “no contest” or be found not guilty and the fee would more than likely be lowered. I asked if I would still be eligible for traffic school if I did this, and she said yes. I scheduled my court date and haven’t had to pay anything yet. Which is delightful as $490 plus traffic school is not really in my budget right now.
When I go to court I will update with the outcome !
Thank you to the website for making this horrible thing seem just a little bit easier to manage!
Hello, today I ran a red light in front of a cop I pulled over and got a ticket, It was yellow and it turned red halfway, through, the cop told me I almost ran him over which is not true the cars and himself were still behind the white in ad I ccrossed. Do I have any chance of winning this? I pulled over before I got stopped because I assumed I was gonna get a ticket, it was a motorcycle cop.
I got a 2014 red light camera ticket in San Francisco.
The moral of my court battle is such: If your picture is blurry, then contest your ticket til the very end.
Here is what you should do:
First contest your ticket by requesting a Trial by Written Declaration. You have to put up the full bail amount but you will get it back when your case is dismissed.
Trial by Written Declaration is a secret weapon great for two reasons:
1) If you lose, you can still exercise your right for a new trial (Trial de Novo) held at the courthouse down at 850 Bryant.
2) You avoid spending any time at 850 Bryant and all the degradation that comes with it.
Download the form and mail it in:
*My evidence rested on the inaccuracy of the photographic evidence. I was ruled guilty, so in hindsight I should have shifted my response to how the red light camera photo was too blurry to accurately determine the identity of the driver.
Though the court may not notify you in a proper or timely manner, they are not responsible for keeping you in the dark. Be proactive and call frequently for updates on your case. Traffic Division: (415) 551-8550
If you lose your Trial by Written Declaration, request a Trial de Novo. You can submit by mail, but I dropped it at the Clerks Office in Room 140 because I did it close to the deadline. They will choose the trial date and notify you by mail so remember to call the # above to get updates.
Get it here:
Fast forward 2 months. Trial was interesting. It began with a roll call of both officers and defendants. My officer was present, because SF County has two ‘officers’ dedicated to handling court issues involving SF red light camera tickets, so if you hope to dismiss your case in this manner, be mindful of this fact. The clerk/bailiff will make you watch a video and offer you one last chance to pay the full fine, but with the option of traffic school. I almost fell prey to this final tactic. After around 45 minutes the red light camera officer sat next to me and whispered she would ask the judge for a dismissal based on the blurry and inconclusive photographic evidence. She dismissed another man’s ticket as well. I walk out with a piece of paper stamped DISMISSED. Of course, I will be calling the Traffic Division hotline to see when my refund will arrive.
I left out some details to keep my post brief. E-mail me with any questions: defbybunga at gmail.com
What happens if you weren’t driving through the intersection that is specified on the citation? Can I challenge the validity because of the error?
We had no reason to be anywhere that particular street. Can you suggest a defense strategy?
Hi Fell&Masonic victim, did you ever get the ticket?
I did the exact same thing over the weekend and wonder if I’m going to get the ticket….
i was going on hacienda in ca the light was yellow.thought i could pass the intersection but just before few seconds it turned red.i could not see any flashes due to direct sunlight.How many days it takes for the ticket to come through mail.
My dad (the registered owner of the car) got a red-light ticket in the mail from SF. I was driving my mother, I made bad judgement call by doing a rolling right turn just as the light turn from yellow to red, the photo shown I arrived at the line 2.2 sec after. Note: My drivers license is not associated with their address.
Here are the issues: My dad turned in his driver’s license years ago, and he suffered a severe head injury from a fall just a week before infraction. He is currently under hospice care and we’re not expecting him to survive another week. Should I have my mother sign the affidavit stating my dad is not the driver without naming myself (will the ticket be dismissed and I’ll take my chances that they might not find me)? Will my mother need to appear in court later for this (I’m not going to put her thru that)?
Thanks in advance for any advice and help.
Does anyone have experience with what to do after being found guilty? I went to trial because it wasn’t me in the picture (buddy was borrowing car) and yet I was still found guilty because the picture was a little blurry (but not too blurry according to the judge). Right now i just want to avoid getting a point on my record. Is there any way to amend a sentence and plead guilty to get the option of traffic school AFTER a trial? I really didn’t anticipate this due to the fact that it wasn’t me in the car but at this point I really have no choice. Any help would be much appreciated!
I received a citation in the mail for running a red light 21453(a). in San Leandro @ E 14th & Fairmont. The video shows me coming to a complete stop in the right hand turn lane BUT I was in the cross walk when I stopped. The intersection is not marked there are no pedestrians in the area and the oncoming traffic is turning left on arrow. Finally, I received the ticket 4 weeks after the citation 1/31/15 recived 2/28/15. I do not live in the area and didn’t know traffic cameras were in use. Do I have a snow balls chance in hell in reducing this ticket or getting it dismissed?
Hi! I received a citation for turning left on red arrow light @Fell/Masonic in SF during . Before I realized there was red arrow light at the intersection, I saw a very bright flash (at this point I was not past the first white line-I have attached the pictures below). I went past the second white line (speed 15mph according to the ticket) and backed my car behind.
I have the court date on 04/16 and I am planning to ask for an extension. Can I fight the ticket on the grounds that I was not past the line before the first picture was taken? What can my other choices be? Thanks for any help!
are you guys still checking this? I want to check if you are still checking this site?
A huge thank you to author of this thread, I was lucky to have found this site as I wanted to know what my options are after receiving a Red light camera ticket at intersection of Oak & Octavia.
Wanted to share some updated information for 2015 (received my ticket June 2015)….
* Calling SF Superior Court Traffic Division was very helpful (415) 551-8550 / Press 0 ; hardly any wait time on phone and received concise instructions. Lady at the Superior Court was rather unclear & not forthcoming with info so I was happy to have called in advance.
* There is a option to NOT contest your ticket and request for a REDUCED bail amount (this is the route I took, the video shows me clearly running the red) & still have the option to go to traffic school.
This means you have to go to the Traffic Division in person, schedule a date to come back (usually 2 weeks out) and at that time, the judge (who focuses on bail) will determine new amount. Current bail for red light is $490. Based on person I spoke to on phone, they’ll knock off at least $200. Key word advice I received is that you CANNOT miss this scheduled date. If you miss it, there is a $300 penalty on top of your bail AND you forfeit your chance to take traffic school.
So here I am, scheduled my date and going to request for a reduction. Any new information, I’ll post. But seems like it should be fairly straightforward as long as I don’t miss that date.
Just wanted to share my experience as this website was truly helpful to me when I was searching for anwers online. Thank you AMUSINGS author.