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Friday, April 12, 2002



State of Hawaii


art

The prosecutor says any
van cam citations that are
challenged will be dismissed


By Nelson Daranciang
ndaranciang@starbulletin.com

The Honolulu prosecutor's office will seek the dismissal of all camera van speeding citations issued to people who challenge the tickets in trial.

The decision by the prosecutor's office yesterday was in response to District Court Judge Leslie Ann Hayashi's ruling earlier in the day that registration information cannot be used as evidence that the owners of the vehicles were driving when their cars were tagged for speeding.

"Based upon the ruling of the court, as a matter of policy and fairness, that all pending speeding citations issued purely by what's known as the van cams or the traffic vans, our office will be dismissing," said Renee Sonobe Hong, deputy city prosecutor. Hong was assigned to prosecute the first 69 photo speeding citations scheduled for trial next week. She is advising those people not to show up.

"They don't need to appear, to save them the time and effort of having to go to court. If they do show up, it will be dismissed again as a second step on the record. And no contempt warrants or bench warrants will be issued," she said.

But people who are cited must take the initial step of challenging the ticket in order for it to be dismissed. Those cases will be thrown out when they are scheduled for trial, Hong said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ben Cayetano halted the controversial traffic camera program, which began in January.

The Legislature also repealed the three-year pilot program in a unanimous vote in the House yesterday afternoon. Cayetano has said he will let the repeal bill become law without his signature.

Hayashi's ruling, meanwhile, was another blow to the program. The traffic camera photos do not show who was behind the wheel, so Hayashi's ruling meant prosecutors needed other evidence to prove who was driving.

The state law that established the Photo Traffic Enforcement Program mandated that registration information is evidence that the owners were driving when their vehicles were tagged for speeding by the van cameras. Hayashi ruled that provision is unconstitutional, since it shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defendant.

Two attorneys who represent people whose trials were scheduled for Monday were pleased with the ruling and the decision of the prosecutor's office.

"They could have been picky about it and taken cases to trial that they thought they had sufficient evidence, but they didn't," said attorney Michael Kam.

Attorney Katherine Kealoha, who accepted 72 photo speeding citation cases free of charge, added, "I think it was the right thing to do."

Hayashi's ruling applies only to those cases assigned to trial, a criminal proceeding. Judges presiding in the initial court hearing for the photo citations, which is a noncriminal proceeding, can still consider registration information as evidence that the owners of the vehicles were the ones driving.

However, District Judge Christopher McKenzie dismissed, without explanation, all the citations scheduled for initial hearing in his Honolulu court room yesterday. The state Judiciary had no explanation for McKenzie's action but continues to encourage people not to ignore their citations.

People who received photo citations still need to respond in writing or in person by their assigned court dates, said Marsha Kitagawa, state Judiciary spokeswoman.

In another traffic camera court proceeding yesterday, Circuit Judge Gary Chang gave the state two weeks to retrieve personal data it gave to Affiliated Computer Services, the private vendor that operated the traffic cameras.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii sued the city and the state alleging the violation of privacy rights for providing ACS with Social Security numbers and other personal data from the driver's license database without proper notice.

The state asked ACS for the data yesterday and has also asked for assurances that ACS did not make any copies or have the data transferred, Deputy Attorney General Wayne Matsuura said.

ACLU attorney Brent White said: "We did achieve our goal, which is, we've got to get this information back. However, we have to wait and see if the state follows through with it."


Star-Bulletin reporter Leila Fujimori
contributed to this report.



State of Hawaii


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