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Camera Traps - Atheitis goes to court.

03 July 2014, 15:12
Most of us have at some stage or other received one of those letters full of red ink and threats advising that you exceeded the speed limit by doing 76kmh in a 60kmh zone while passing by some godforsaken dorp like Barryvale or Willomore where, on a downhill, they erect a series of speed limit signs obscured behind trees within 20 metres of each other, 120 - 80 - 60 - SNAP!

Even though that red letter has no legal validity whatsoever, whether delivered by ordinary post or registered mail, the local leeches rely on the fact the 50% of people get a huge skrik and pay up. I and the other 50% throw the letter away knowing they are never followed up and it is way too expensive to execute a summons and have a Sheriff of the Court track you down to deliver it. Either they must deliver summons or they must pull you over at the time of the “offence” and hand you the summons on the spot. A letter printed in red ink counts for nothing and only the ignorant pay. Only a summons handed to you personally or delivered and signed for at your address has any validity at all.

Same goes for those e-Toll letters SANRAL posts you. You can just bin them and wait and see if they can rustle up enough Sheriffs to deliver hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of summons and then find the resources to fight all those court cases. So far SANRAL are avoiding me.

Let me tell you of my experience of dealing with the issue of camera evidence of a vehicle committing an “offence” and how one can simply prove that such photograph is not adequate as evidence in court. I point out that I am definitely not a speed fiend who goes around flouting the rules of the road and have been only been handed one summons and 3 red letters (all ignored) in the last 25 years. I fight the boggers because most of these speed camera traps have nothing to do with road safety, are set up only in places where they can catch the unwary, and are simply an automated stealth tax to fund the local council. Hello Barryvale and Willowmore.

Way back in 1989 I had a Sheriff of the Court pitch up at my place of business and hand me a summons which alleged I had been photographed speeding at 140kmh (limit 120kmh) on, what was then, the concrete highway between Randburg and Rivonia. The date of the “offence” (6 month's earlier) was given as 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon and I immediately smelt a rat since I was usually on a golf course on Saturday afternoons. Either the time or the date was wrong or it simply was not me.

I called around at the traffic department and asked to see the picture and they set up a primitive looking projector (this was before digital photography) and displayed a negative image on the wall. I asked for a positive copy of the image and told them why it was not my car in the photo. They denied me a copy of the picture, refused to contemplate cancelling the fine and demanded I pay the fine. I refused and told them I would see them in court first.

I immediately wrote to the Public Prosecutor at Randburg, advised him I would defend the charge, and asked him to intervene and require the Traffic Department to provide a positive copy of the photograph. This worked, and a week or so later, with a barely disguised smirk, I collected the picture from the Traffic Department.

When I examined the black and white picture there was a clear image of an Opel Commodore 3.0i with speed and time information. Now I had an Opel Commodore but knew this had to be a clone car. Again I approached the Traffic Department but, as the “offence” occurred 6 months before and I could not possibly remember who I would have played golf with that day and could not therefore confirm an alibi, they still refused to withdraw the summons.

Now was time to be bloody minded.

To prepare for the court case I again wrote to the Public Prosecutor, told him I would defend the case and demanded that the State have the following witness available in court:

  • Experts on the accuracy of the speed trapping equipment

  • The personnel from the Traffic Department responsible for maintaining the accuracy of the equipment.

  • The officers who set up the equipment on the day.

  • The officers who removed and developed the camera film.

I then went out and took the following colour photographs:

A picture of a colleague's white car, identical to mine except mine was silver blue.

A picture of my car with a false numberplate and an “I'm Abnormal” sticker stuck upside down on the boot.

A picture of a little red Fiat with my numberplate.

I was ready.

On the day of the court case, knowing that my defended case would be heard in the afternoon, I arrived at the court at 9:00 armed with a good book, a Thermos of coffee and a nice lunch and settled in for the morning delighted to see that at least 10 traffic officials and expert representatives from the company which supplied the trapping equipment were present and required to waste a day in the unpleasant surroundings of a magistrates court.

Come 2:00 pm and my case was called. I pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor called his first witness, the equipment supplier expert, and the prosecutor proceeded to lead evidence about the nature and accuracy of the the apparatus. After five minutes I intervened, “Your worship, I would like the court to know that I now accept the accuracy of the equipment supplied by this manufacturer and there is no point in wasting the court's time leading further evidence in that regard.” The female magistrate consulted with the prosecutor and the witness stood down.

Round One to Atheitis on annoyance points.

The next witness called by the State was the traffic Department official responsible for maintaining the accuracy of speed trapping equipment. One again I intervened after 5 minutes of his evidence, “Your worship, I would like the court to know that I now accept that the equipment used was adequately maintained by the Traffic Department and was accurate on the day and there is no point in wasting the court's time leading further evidence in that regard.” The magistrate consulted with the prosecutor and the witness stood down.

Round Two with me well ahead on annoyance points.

The Prosecution then called the cop who spent the day obscured by a shady bush who proceeded to explain how he set up the trap. When the prosecution finished it was my turn to cross examine the officer (I have forgotten his name). I have left out all the “Your worship” , My Lady” nonsense.

/* Place the black and white speed camera picture before the the officer. */

Q. Is this the picture taken by your camera on the day?

A. Ja, that's right!

Q. Do you remember this car going through your speed trap?

A. No.

Q. Did you stop the car and confirm the identity of the car or the driver?

A. No.

Q. Officer, have you ever issued a parking ticket?

A. Yes.

Q. Officer, when you issue a parking ticket what is the first thing you do before writing out the ticket?

A. I don't know what you mean.

Q. Officer, don't you always look at the vehicle licence disk and match it to the numberplates?

A. Oh, ja. I do that.

Q. Officer why do you do that?

A. To check that the car is properly licensed and the numberplates match.

Q. But when you operate a speed trap you don't do that so you cannot confirm that the car in the picture is properly licensed nor that the numberplates match?

A. No.

Q. Tell me officer, what was the colour of the car in your picture?

A. I don't know, it is a black and white picture.

Q. Will you please describe the car in the picture to the court?

A. Its an Opel Commodore.

Q. What else? What are the identifying features of the car?

A. Err …..! Its has mud flaps, a towbar and it looks like a sticker in the back window. (supplier sticker)

/* Replace cop's BW picture and with colour picture of colleagues white Opel Commodore */

Q. Officer can you tell me what you see in this picture?

A. Its a photo of an Opel Commodore.

Q. What colour is the car in the picture?

A. White.

Q. Does the car have mud flaps?

A. Yes

Q. Does the car have a tow bar?

A. Yes.

Q. Does the car have a sticker in the back window?

A. Yes.

Q. Is that the car that went through your speed trap?

A. No.

Q. How do you know that?

A. Because it has a different registration number to one in the picture.

/* Replace picture with colour picture of my own car with false registration and “I'm Abnormal” sticker */

Q. Officer can you tell me what you see in this picture?

A. Its a photo of an Opel Commodore.

Q. What is the colour of the car in the picture?

A. Silver blue.

Q. Does the car have mud flaps, a tow bar and a sticker in the back window?

A. Yes.

Q. Is that the car that went through your speed trap?

A. No. It also has a different registration.

Smackdown! This is fun. He clearly identifies that the car he photographed was not mine.

/* Replace picture with colour picture of little red Fiat with my registration plates */

Officer looks confused.

Q. Officer tell the court what you see in this picture?

A. (Splutters) This is a trick.

Q. Please tell the court what you see in the picture?

A. Its Fiat with a false registration plate.

Q. Is that the registration plate that went through your speed trap?

A. Yes, but it is wrong …... its not the right car.

Q. Officer, are you admitting to the the court that all your photo tells us is that an unknown vehicle, of unknown colour, driven by an unknown person, owned by persons unknown but bearing my registration plate drove through your trap at high speed?

A. No answer.

Q. Officer, how many cars are stolen in the Witwatersrand area every day?

A. I don't know.

Q. I have a press cutting here that says more than 20000 are stolen every year. Would you dispute that?

A. I don't know.

Q. Officer, when a car is stolen, what is the first thing a thief does?

A. Ja its a problem. They put on false numbers.

Q. And tell me officer: the security police. Do the security police drive around with cars with false registrations? (this is 1989).

A. Yes. That is also a problem.

Q. And if someone is going to put a false registration on a car is it not likely that they will match the make to the registration number?

A. Yes, that often happens.

Q. So the car in your picture could be a stolen car or a security police car with a false registration. Am I right?

Magistrate intervenes. All right Mr Godfrey, that's enough. You have made your case. I find you not guilty and you are free to go. /* Smiles. */

So there you have it folks. Those who would claim this is fiction (as they did with my 1974 Rapport letter) can find it all reported in the Sunday Times of 18 June, 1989 with a cute picture of me smiling in triumph at the camera.

Now I am waiting to see if the SANRAL would like to have a go. I have the time. Plenty of cars like mine around and the thieves still switch plates, many vehicle owners clone cars and who knows what Zipper's Security Cluster is up to?

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