San Francisco Red Light Camera Tickets

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.

Your choices:

  • 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.
  • Trial + Traffic school. This is probably the best option for most people. Go to the clerk.  Post bail (the amount of your ticket) and plead not-guilty.  Get a time for trial. 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.

Pleading not-guilty

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

  • 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

  1. it was friday in SF 11:20 at night I very unfamiliar of SF since its been 1yr i went into the city. it was very dark no lighting only thing i saw was the green light for everyone to go @ fell street and masonic ave. it looked very misleading because of the green light when i was about to make a left turn i saw a white flash and tried to stop as fast as possible but i was 3/4 pass the outer pedestrian line when i came to a full stop. i had to reverse and wait for the light to turn green to turn left. video shows i stopped beyond the pedestrian line my rear was still behind the line so it looked 3/4 out. fyi i just finished taking a traffic school online for a different county. should i fight it or go ahead and try for traffic school again
    thank you

  2. Phosy –
    Looks like Masonic strikes again. I’m in the exact same predicament as you. I took traffic school within 18-months of my Masonic violation and I’m going to try to get traffic school again, but from what I’ve read, it’s not likely that we’ll be successful with the new law. I too was confused by the intersection with all of the Fell lights being green and the left turn being red. That intersection is a trap and the only reason for the red turn arrow is to make a third-party company lots of money. I’ll be updating this site after mid-September with my arraignment results, but I would recommend you go down to room 145 at the courthouse and request an arraignment date. From what I’ve read, you’ll at least get a reduction in fine. We’ll see if there’s even a place for me to request traffic school. I may have to go to trial and see if a judge will grant that to me.

  3. Phosey, Mike and many others. While I know quite a bit about camera systems and the justice system, and local government, I am an East Bay resident and not too familiar with SF. After reading many posts re: Masonic and Fell and seeing the situation via some camera tickets, google maps, and some writings on the subject, it seems someone has to make a commitment to do something. I read where SF traffic engineers have tried various things to make this intersection safer. Making the public aware and SF supervisors aware of the problem, talking with senior traffic engineers, speaking at City Council meetings – something should be done. Enforcement is not the answer when so many violations seem quite unintentional. Perhaps there is a potential ally in city government that can help move folks to solve this problem.

  4. Stupid Fell & Masonic. About the worse intersection in the world. So very misleading. Does anyone know if the reduced fine + traffic school option is available if you do trail by Written Declaration? I have to give my response by Sept 14th, so I’d still have to go in person next week to request a trial by written declaration. However, it would save me the time of having to go in person to the actual court date. If it is not available, then is my only option to plead not guilty and then request a court date?

    My video clearly shows my entire car passing the second pedestrian line, so I’m pretty much fubared on that front. I’m eligible for traffic school as it has been years since my last point needed to be sealed. If I plead not guilty and then go to court, what are the chances that I lose my right to do traffic school?

  5. Jerry….Still waiting for someone with time and energy to get Engineers to try something new at Fell and Masonic. Massive ticketing is not the answer. Anyway, no harm in doing a TBWD. In it, ask for a reduction if found guilty and traffic school if found guilty. If unsuccessful, none of this will count against you when you apply for Trial de Novo. You could even throw in “hearsay defense” …more in next posting

  6. Jerry – Try citing this Appellate court decision. It is not binding in SF but can be persuasive: …..


    -Criminal Law and Procedure-
    Trial court erred in admitting testimony of police employee who offered a prepared statement to establish foundation for introduction of evidence obtained via red light camera system, including photographs and videotapes; photographs and videotapes are “writings” under the Evidence Code and could not be authenticated by a witness who was not present when the events depicted therein occurred, lacked personal knowledge of the images or the method of their creation, and offered no evidence that she was testifying to facts within her knowledge, or even that she personally prepared the statement that she read. Witness’ testimony violated defendant’s confrontation clause rights.
    People v. Winters; Superior Court of California, County of San Bernardino – filed June 28, 2012
    Cite as JAD12-08
    Full text

  7. Jerry,

    It would not hurt to do a Trial By Written Declaration. In it, give your best defense and close by saying, “if found guilty, I request permission to attend traffic school. (or community service, if you want). Maybe the answer is yes and you can then decide whether to accept the verdict of file for a Trial de Novo. Nothing you say in the TBWD can be used at trial.

  8. Some great advice here so I thought I’d post my predicament. (I’ll also be posting over at as well.) Got a red-light ticket in San Juan Capistrano at an intersection that everyone is pissed about. Not really relevant but the city council got so much grief about it, it has decided to discontinue the red-light cameras at the end of the contract (ends in about 3 weeks actually.) The particulars…

    It IS a real ticket. I was aware of the snitch tickets and was hoping it’s what I got. But this looks to be the real deal. Court address and number, color photos, actual notice to appear, etc. Sure the picture is blurry but they have a better one on file right? And the way I hear it you basically need to prove that it’s NOT you instead of them having to prove it IS you in front of some judges so we won’t bother.

    Couple of things about the ticket are odd though. There is no “late time” posted on the ticket. No elapsed time. No anything time other than the time of the violation. I’ve watched the video and I ESTIMATE my late time to be .6-.7 seconds but we know how inaccurate that can be. Not sure how long the yellow is either because the video STARTS with a yellow light. Only yellow for about 2.4s but how long was it yellow BEFORE the start of the video? I’m sure they have the “full” video at the station but I’m also sure this is just another way to make it difficult on us to figure out any type of defense. I have seen a LOT of people posting about this intersection but haven’t noticed any of them arguing the short yellow so we’ll “assume” it’s long enough? Another thing that seems odd is that it’s mailed from Tempe, Az but the certificate of mailing is by some guy in Providence, RI and the zip code on the post mark is from Houston, Tx?!

    But here’s my main question. Date of violation – 06/09/2012. Date issued – 08/20/2012. Date mailed – 08/23/2012. That’s over SEVENTY days from violation to issuing but here’s a possible issue I see. I had just bought this car. I had it literally a week. I was actually on my way back to the dealership to get some stuff taken care of. Is it possible that they sent the original to the dealership because the registration hadn’t been updated yet? So that resets their clock? Did the dealership dime me out?!? Are they under some sort of different legal obligation as a dealership? Any way to find out if they were notified?! I’m thinking it’s a simple demurrer (…is there such a thing as a “simple” demurrer?) if they actually took this long but I’m worried about a possible ORIGINAL notification to the dealer? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  9. Also no fine amount listed. Received that a week later in the “courtesy notice.” $490. That’s ridiculous.

  10. Murf….Great questions. Editor of knows more than I – but I have a few suggestions. Draw this out….Get a 30 day extension (easy) …Do a Trial By Written Declaration….(whatever you say cannot be used at Trial de Novo)….If guilty, file for a Trial de Novo.

    Use the extra time to get answers on time limit on issuing citation….It certainly sounds like dealership got a ticket…real or snitch…and “nominated” you. Can that 3rd party statement be admitted into evidence or is it hearsay? Maybe an atty can give you some free or low cost advice in order to pursue a good course of action. The actual signal light timing charts are available to you if you write to the city clerk “Public Records Act Request” They will get the info to you within 10 days.

    I also strongly suggest calling the courthouse to see what days and times the camera trials are held. Observe what works and what does not. Usually camera cases are batched and heard once a week here in Alameda County.

  11. Hi. I got a ticket for a Red Light Violation. There are pictures but the person is wearing glasses and the sun visor is down. It was our car but my sister was driving it at that time. She doesn’t live in the US. She was just visiting here. How will I provide her information in the affidavit of non-liability?

  12. was wondering if the cameras in san francisco take pics of the rear plate too. was stressing out this morning cuz of a nursing school; final exam and accidently went thru a red light. saw 2 flashes but theres no plate on the front of my car. i see postings in here that say there are no cameras that take pic of rear but theyre old posts so was wondering if thats still the case

  13. need help writting a short letter to the police department about getting a red light camera ticket. but it wasn’t me in the picture i can’t recall who was driving my car that week and i can not tell by the picture

  14. Does anyone know off the top of their heads what signage, if any, is required to red light cameras? I just drove by our favorite intersection at Fell & Masonic last night and did not notice a single “Red Light Camera Enforcement” sign that you see at most other RLC intersections. Does San Francisco have a legal requirement to have one of these signs to make the camera legal? Or am I just grasping at air here hoping that this may be the silver bullet I’m looking for…

  15. Horses – yes they take a picture of your rear license plate.

    Jerry – SF gets around the sign notification by placing signs at all highway entries into the City. It’s crap, but it’s legal.

  16. Hello, my business vehicle was cited. They don’t have the driver info. Can I just send the check for $480 without the driver’s info. Will they follow up once they have the cash in hand?? Thanks

  17. Cargrrl —- If the ticket was issued to a business and not a person, it most likely a SNITCH TICKET which has NO LEGAL WEIGHT and can be discarded.
    If it does NOT say “NOTICE TO APPEAR” it is a fake and can be disregarded.
    Still not sure or not sure what to do….google snitch ticket or go to or email

  18. Anonymous – Better to call or go to police station (make an appt first). Explain that the photo is clearly NOT YOU. (I assume that is correct, right?). The police will try to twist your arm to “nominate” the actual driver. You are under no obligation to do so even if you know. The police are under no obligation to dismiss, either. The RLC cops I know will most likely dismiss especially if you say you will take it to court and let the judge decide. You can first try a Trial by Declaration and then, if unsuccessful, get a real trial. If you want to write a letter, just say, “not me.” Enclose a copy of your driver’s license.

  19. Liezl – From what you say the ticket bears YOUR NAME. The photo is that of your sister. If it is clearly not you. Try just saying that and mailing it back. You are under no obligation to “nominate” your sister. DO NOT PROVIDE THIS INFORMATION. If you and your sister shared the same address on DMV records either by car ownership or the fact that each had a driver’s license listing the same address, the police have the capabilities to ID the actual driver (your sister) and re issue the ticket in her name. Will they do it? Probably not. Worse case scenario is that the police do not dismiss, you plea Not Guilty and go to Trial. If all that comes to pass, seek add’l help here on this blog.

  20. My son ran a red light in Santa Ana, CA. I got the ticket as the RO. I went to arraignment but judge wouldn’t listen as I tried to ask for a dismissal so I plead not guilty. One week before, they dismissed my ticket but reissued to my son. What is his best defense? He ran it but is unemployed. Should he try a TBD? Someone posted that there was major construction during that time and the speed limit signs were down at that intersection.
    Thanks for the help.

  21. Marcia. There are many details involved in these infractions – some of which may help in your son’s defense. Most commonly, is the photo clear enough beyond a reasonable doubt to convict your son. The police originally thought the image resembled you and that is why they issued the ticket to you to begin with perhaps. I assume a TBWD is the best option unless your son lives in Santa Ana. Make what ever case he can and ask, “if found guilty, I request the fine be converted to community service.” Then give the reasons: unemployed, student, anything else showing undue hardship coming up with the money. If unsuccessful, a Trial de Novo, may be in order. The same argument and the same request can be made in front of a different judge, most likely.
    Without knowing more details, who knows what “legal” defense could be used. Why not contact a traffic atty. Maybe a short (free) conversation may give him some better insight.

  22. I got a red light camera ticket (Redflex) VC21453(A) at the intersection of HWY 29 & Hwy 121 in Napa, Ca. I paid my fine and I did a trial by written declaration and talked about the yellow light seeming to be much shorter than legal limit, that the camera was hearsay evidence (citing court cases), etc. i was found guilty. i have asked for and received a date for a Trial de Novo on Oct 1, 2012. Any ideas what else i can present in court? I intend to go time the yellow light with a video camera to present in court, (I don’t live near Napa, but figure it is worth a shot) but have no other ideas if my original arguments can not be used at trial (I saw this in an earlier post:”Nothing you say in the TBWD can be used at trial.”) If I can’t use my original arguments, then I am fresh out of ideas. Before i read this site, I was planning to bring to court a stack of prior precedent-setting dismissal court cases, claiming that red light cameras are hearsay since they can’t be cross-examined. What do you suggest?? I need help. Susan

  23. Thanks, I think he’s going to do the TBD, state that he should have gotten the notice in 15 days of the violation,- (I think there is something that requires that but I don’t recall the codes), note that the signs weren’t posted due to construction-but I don’t know if he should add this, and possibly add the hearsay defense.

    Your thoughts?

  24. Hi,

    Thank you for your time and effort! Apparently, I got caught running a red on 19th Avenue and Sloat heading north. It is a real ticket. I distinctively remember entering the intersection when the light was yellow. I even nearly crossed over to the other side of the intersection before the light turned red, but i saw the camera flash.

    I firmly believed that I did not enter the intersection on a red, but the photo’s have my red time at .6 and the yellow time was 3.9.

    My dad mentioned since the car is still registered under his name, he can take the blame and go to traffic school since I already have a point of my insurance and he doesn’t. Or is there a way we can use this and have my dad say that wasn’t him?

    Thank you very much. Anything is greatly appreciated.

  25. James – In the first photo, the car is usually shown near the limit line but still slightly behind it. Is that true? If yes, can you tell what color the signal light is. You say it is green. Are you sure?

  26. In the first photo, I am slightly behind the limit line. The light is red, but the signal is across the street for the traffic going South. Could there be a delay between the lights?

  27. Huh? There is a red light in the direction you are traveling…correct? Not Green as you said, correct. Not yellow, correct. I guess a picture is worth a thousand words. I would have to see this to understand it.

  28. I got a notice that was sent in an envelope that has a return address of Superior Court of California
    County of San Francisco
    Traffic Division
    850 Bryant St., Room 145
    SF, Ca. 94103-4664
    it was post marked sept. 4th. It was in my PO box sept. 14th.

    It was just a sheet of paper saying I needed to respond I think by the 20th or 21st.
    I have lost the flippin paper. ugh. Why was there so little time to respond? Why was there no picture? They sent it to my physical address, and they do not deliver mail her in Silverado which is in OC. The post office did put a stamp on it to let the sender know that my address requires a po box, but it does not appear that it was returned to them. The stupid PO does let them slide sometimes. The whole PO box thing is such a hassle.

    So it is my PO box on record at the DMV. Why did they send it to my physical address? Why did it take 10 days from post mark to get to me? Why no Pictures? etc. etc.

    I have been researching camera tix now for a couple days, and I am pissed. They seem very wrong in so many ways. I have not acted yet because I don’t want to do the wrong thing. But, I have to act soon, because I do remember that it said I needed to respond in some way by the 20th plus or minus a day.

    I have read all kinds of stuff. Not sure what to believe. If I call or go to some website to check on whatever this was that was sent to me, is it possible admission of something that is bogus to begin with? I cannot beleive that I lost that stupid piece of paper. ugh!!

    any suggestions? Should I just contact Ticket Snipers or something?

  29. Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    4:30 PM

    Frank Ogawa Plaza

    100 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA (edit map)

    I will post good directions with parking information soon. Meeting will be on 1st Floor – Metting Room #1, The Sgt Mark Dunakin Rm.

    Oakland Safety Committee Meeting

    Tuesday Sept. 25 4:30 pm

    Sgt. Mark Dunakin Room 1st Floor

    City Hall 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza

    This MeetUp event is of critical importance to all Bay Area motorists who believe that Red Light Camera programs are a fraud in that they are NOT about Safety but ARE about Revenue.

    Let me stress that this opportunity to speak out is HUGE and does not come every year. I have received some interest from both print and television media. Here is what this meeting is about.

    Oakland Police Dept. is about to ask for a 3 year extension of its contract with Redflex for photo enforcement of red light violations. The first step is that the Police need to get 3 out of the 4 members of the Safety Committee to approve the proposal so that it can be sent to the Oakland City Council. This what Tuesday’s meeting is about. Let’s at least get 2 of the 4 council people to NOT APPROVE sending this proposal to the FULL COUNCIL. This is the time for you to be heard.

    It matters not whether you live or work in Oakland. Red light camera programs in the Bay Area must be reined in. 50,000 tickets a year in Alameda County. Over 15,000 per year in Oakland. About 7,000 tickets per year from just one camera IN Oakland and over 80% of those are for right turns onto a freeway onramp. Government Gone Wild ! ! We cannot let this opportunity slip by. Hayward will soon be doing the same as it current contract with Redflex is soon expiring. Let’s push the dominoes.

    Each person in the audience will represent thousands of fellow motorists. Your mere presence is important. Fill out a speaker card when you arrive, if you like. They like these cards filled out in advance. They can be done on line. (I will post the link to online speaker’s cards later_) Tell of your experience, your opinion. Your voice is important. Whether you speak for a few seconds or the allotted one or two minutes. Even if you choose not to speak. Your presence counts. Now is the time.

    Consider making arrangements to attend. In the next few days, I will email you with the Police Dept’s report. I will also email you my proposed comments. Specific directions with information about parking and how long the meeting may take will also be posted.

    Please give me some indication if you or anyone you know might be able to attend. Bring a neighbor, friend, spouse. Afterwards, perhaps go out to dinner in nearby Chinatown.

    More at:

  30. Went to my arraignment tonight. They said “Tonight, and tonight only there will be a fine reduction.” They also said that starting two months ago officers were told they’d be penalized if they didn’t show up for their trial, so the officer attendance rate at trial is now 93%. So, because I’m not eligible for traffic school, I said FML and took the reduced fine. Saved $200. We’ll see what happens to my insurance….good luck to all of you and thank you for this resource!

  31. Susan. One experienced judge in Alameda County clearly said he is not allowed to look at anything submitted on Trial by Written Declaration at your Trial de Novo. A year or two ago, I saw some defendants easily win citing Hearsay Defense or that a different officer testified rather than the one signed your ticket. I think Officer John Brandt signs most of tickets there. Lately the most winning defense has been the photo is not clear enough to identify YOU BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. Since you don’t live in Napa, you might ask a traffic atty in the area for a price and your chances. If an atty represents you – you don’t have to be present. Most people do not use this defense believing the photo is crystal clear. My experience is that most photos are not. The problem is that each judge is different. An atty may be able assess your chances before hiring him or her.
    You could ask for a 30-day extension (try by phone) and submit a public records request to the city clerk of Napa for signal light timing charts for the date of your infraction. Invariably, it will give you the time which is at or above the minimum. Timing a yellow light is problematic. I usually take a video (with sound like my car radio on) so that I can anticipate the onset of the yellow. Just because you may time it at 4.3 seconds does not necessarily take into your own reaction time which could be 1/2 second. Unless you know how to do a frame count on a video, who is going to believe in the accuracy of your measurement.

  32. Roger

    I received a citation for making a red light left hand turn from Fell onto Masonic. What to you think of the following defense?


    Hello. My name is Dan. I am pleading not guilty to Citation _______________. In my defense, I would like to submit 4 items of evidence.

    1) First, for a driver heading west on Fell, I believe the traffic lights at the intersection of Fell and Masonic are confusing. As evidence I submit the following photograph (source: _____________, exhibit 1), along with the fact there are an abnormally large number of traffic violations at this intersection. Per my research, there are hundreds of left turn red light ticket violations per day. To rectify the situation, the city has now modified the placement of both the left hand turn signals and the forward arrow signals. The new traffic light configuration can be seen in the following photograph (source ____________, exhibit 2). This modification occurred after I received my ticket.
    2) Second, heading west on Fell, the driver view of the left turn traffic signals at the intersection of Fell and Masonic is obscured by overhanging trees. As evidence I would submit the following photograph (source: ____________, exhibit 3). To rectify the situation the city has now removed the obscuring trees from the intersection. The removal of the trees can be seen in the following photograph (source ___________, exhibit 2). This modification also occurred after I received my ticket.
    3) Third, I contend I am both a careful and safe driver. As evidence I would submit my driving record. I moved to San Francisco in January 2012 with my wife of 23 years. After 8 months in San Francisco, neither of us have any traffic citations. Except for this ticket, I have not had any violations or accidents in many years.
    4) Last, according to a statement by a MTA spokesman Paul Rose on May 7, 2012 regarding the cameras at the Fell and Masonic intersection, “This is not a revenue measure. This is to make sure that the streets are as safe as possible” (source:, exhibit 4). If this MTA statement is true, I would contend that in light of my safe driving record, a guilty verdict in this case serves no useful purpose except that of revenue generation for the city of San Francisco.

    In summary, based on my safe driving record, and the prior items of evidence regarding the combination of confusing and obscured traffic lights at the intersection, I request the court issue a not guilty verdict, dismiss the fine and expunge the citation from my driving record.


  33. Dan. Forget #3 and #4. Your good driving record cannot be rec’d into evidence. Just as a bad driving record does not prove your guilt on the date of the ticket.

    #4 Camera tickets may be unfair and actually be a source of revenue and not for a legitimate safety measure. This is something that should be addessed to legislature or city council. Courts do not make the law.

    As far as #1 and #2 It does not matter how many violations were issued. The fact that there were problems with visable signage and trees, that could have some legs. If it were me, I would submit a Public Records Act request for all emails, correspondence, maintenance, and work orders for Fell and Masonic intersection for a 6 month period prior to the change. Be prepared to do some homework. Consult Calif MUTCD for any language saying at what distance a signal light should be visible to oncoming traffic, etc. Get an extension. You will have devote a lot of time to this. Good for you. If all you have is your opinion and your photos – who knows. I doubt if you will be the first one to say these things in court., But Who Knows. Repost as things progress.

  34. Roger

    Thank you for your input. In light of your responses, how does this fly for a defense.

    First, per your suggestion, I request an extension in order to obtain additional information. Specifically, I would request ticket frequency data on several camera enforced intersections, including Fell and Masonic. I could then compare the tickets/month frequency pre-change vs. the tickets/month frequency post change at Fell and Masonic, against other intersections. I suspect it will show a) the Fell and Masonic frequency pre-geometry change is much higher than frequency post-geometry change, and b) the Fell and Masonic frequency pre-geometry change is much higher than other comparable intersections.

    I would center my defense along the following lines

    1) the comparative statistics (showing a disproportionate violation frequency at Fell and Masonic), along with my before and after photos (of the intersection) demonstrate that the intersection was either obscured and/or confusing at the time I received my ticket.

    As additional supporting evidence,
    2. If a safe and careful driver (like me, with no accidents or citations) is fooled, along with hundreds of drivers per day, doesnt this supports my contention the intersection is confusing and/or obscured.
    3. If the intersections was not obscured and/or confusing, why did the city remove the obscuring trees and modify the traffic light geometry (layout)?
    4. Does’t the post-change frequency statistics (which I suspect will be much lower than the pre-change frequencies) demonstrate that the intersection was confusing and/or obscured, i.e., cause and effect.

    This approach limits my requests for information and should prove my point. Do you think this new defense is more viable?

    Thanks again for your input.



    Dan. The link above is worth checking. SF uses a vendor other than Redflex. I wonder how SF prosecutes tickets. Tickets seem much more grainy than Redflex’s. I know about Redflex reports. Easy to read. Website has not updated the ticket counts in quite a while. You can ask for (CPRA request) for data about activations for each month from X to Y. But usually your defense is a non-starter. I do recall one judge that might have listened to your argument. The law does not require the intersection to NOT be confusing. If it was a violations were high because of that, take the info to Engineering or City Council. Court does not care. The judge could dismiss “in the interest of justice” but don’t hold your breath.

    If there is language in Calif MUTCD about visibility of signal lights, that might be pursuing.
    You sound like where I was 3 years ago.
    Did you consider the blurry photo defense? Other defenses I have seen win at trial. Red light not visible in photo….No clearly marked limit line therefor hard to tell if photo one shows you behind it.
    Sit in court on camera trial day and you will learn what works and what does not.

  36. First of all, thank you for this blog, you guys are great to help people to figure out what to do. My story:

    Got the red light camera ticket in SF at the corner of Octavia@ Oak in July 2012, September 28th went to the court to plea Not Guilty, got my Arraignment and the court date in mid January, 2013. (I had no idea you could do it by mail!)

    Here is info from my images, I have no knowledge to interpret them:
    Image 1 Time Into Red 0.3 Amber time 4.0
    Image 2 Time Into Red 1.4 Amber time 4.0 Speed 23 mph (@ 30 limit)
    Images are dark, taken at 10 PM, it’s 50/50 that one can tell that it’s me.

    My questions are:

    1. Can I still use “it was not me who was driving the car” defense? I hear that more and more people simply use this argument. As I mentioned above, mine is a dark image. Of course, I can recognize myself anywhere, but does the judge have the authority just by looking at the dark dubious picture to say: “Well, I THINK it looks like you, guilty.” Do they send these pictures to further expertise? Or it is the judge’s call?

    2. Again about the posting signs. There are none at that intersection or at the neighboring streets. Then according to the second part of the CVC 21455.5. such signs should be at ALL major entrances to SF. But I cannot find anywhere the definition of a “major” entrance. I know for sure that there is no such sign on GGBridge, it is already minus one MAJOR ENTRANCE. An officer in court today told me that “they” have a list of 63 signs in the city and this list will be brought to my trial. Do you know where I can obtain this list?

    3. Can I extend (drag) the date of the court and how?

    4. Should I request the City’s Photo Prosecution packet already now (in September), if the court is in January next year, or it’s too early?

    Thank you in advance if you will have time to read and answer. God bless you. LVM

  37. I have another question in addition to my entry above:

    When I went to plea NOT GUILTY yesterday (9/28/2012), in court, the clerk gave me a court date for mid january 2013, it’s beyond my rights of 45 day speedy trial, but I only found out about this right now. Before leaving I was given a paper to sign while the officer was talking, they told me it’s an acknowledgement that I agree to appear in court (?) and I cannot be release without signing it. Was it Waiver of my right for speedy trial that I signed? I never got a copy of it. If yes, how can I protest it if I felt that I was forced into signing it and get my 45 day trial. Does it make sense – because if they refuse me, because the courtroom is full, then my ticket will be dismissed.


    is it better to leave the court date as of January and probably even get an extention for longer for this type of ticket?

  38. I have another question in addition to my entry above:

    When I went to court yesterday (9/28/2012) to plea NOT GUILTY the clerk gave me a court date for mid January 2013, I just found out that it’s beyond my right of 45 day speedy trial. I was given some paper to sign while the officer was talking to me (I was distracted) and the clerk just gave me a pen and asked me to sign it without telling me what it is. Was it actually the Waiver of my right for speedy trial? I never got a copy of it. If yes, how can I protest it if I feel that I was forced into signing it and get my 45 day trial? Is there a chance that if they refuse me due to the courtroom being full, then my ticket will be dismissed?


    is it better to leave the court date as of January and probably even get an extention for longer for this type of ticket?

  39. LVM: While I wait to talk with you here is some input on a couple questions.

    the Police have a list of sign placements. Probably just call and ask them for the info to be sent via email to you. If they won’t do that, submit a “Public Records Act Request” The city must respond within 10 days. You will not be the first person to ask and this document should be easily transmittable electronically.

    Of thousands who have contested “signage” how many have succeeded? If there was a high rate of success, surely the City would have added a sign.

    Identity Defense: “It was not me” defense. I never suggest a person say this unless it is true..
    Yes, the Judge has the only say in the matter. Is it you? “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?” This comes down to what do you know about the judge. How has the Judge ruled in the past. I have heard judges at opposite ends of the spectrum. 2 examples:

    “It looks like you but I cannot say it is you beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt means I could send you to prison for 30 years based on that photo evidence.” …..and….a different judge has said:

    I cannot say that the photo is NOT you. Guilty.

    There could not be 2 better examples as to how far the pendulum can swing.

    Sitting in court and observing is the only way to determine where your judge falls into that spectrum. That is, unless there is someone like me in SF who has seen some judges rule one hundred times and actually seen the photos of those acquitted.

  40. I encourage all to join the only local protest group. It does not matter that you may live in the West Bay or drive in the West Bay. There are no dues, no obligation, no solicitations. You can keep abreast of some of the local issues. By increasing our numbers will increase the clout and visibility of folks opposed to photo enforcement. Click link below and click JOIN button.

  41. Hi Roger,

    Firstly, thank you for the wealth of information and advice that you provide. I got a red light ticket a few months back. I already went to my arraignment date and plead not guilty. My trial is set for Oct 31, 2012.

    The photos are definitely unclear as it was raining and hazey that morning. The 1st photo Red time is .005 and preceding yellow time is 3.9. The 2nd photo Red time is .024. In the close up photo, there is a a windshield wiper going straight through the driver’s face, obstructing a clear view of who the driver is.

    At trial, I want to request that the ticket be dismissed due to lack of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Do you think this is the best way to approach it, do you think I have a good chance of dismissal?

    Also, does the court have clearer photos than what is available to view when you look up your citation online? I’m worried they will produce clearer photos at trial that will discount my request for dismissal.

    Your thoughts and suggestions are greatly appreciated. I’d be happy to email you the citation number if you want to have a look at the photos.

    Thank you so much!

  42. Kinz. Sounds like you have a good chance at dismissal. Email me the particulars. It all depends on the judge and I know some judges and how to stand on “reasonable doubt.” No telling who your judge is. Sit and observe prior to trial to try to figure that out if you want.

    A Plan B might be “does the photo show your car behind a clearly marked limit line in photo #1. I have never a photo with a “late time” below 1/10th of a second.

  43. Rodger
    I was driving to work at 6am and very tired. I ran halfway through a red, realized what had happened and backed up behind the white line. By this time I could see the cameras flashing. I did not fully run the red. Do you think this might work as an appeal?
    Thank you!

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