Marla Leaf, a 67-year-old resident of Iowa, was ticketed by an automated traffic camera. But, instead of simply paying the $75 fee, she decided to get the Supreme Court in Des Moines involved, claiming her constitutional rights were violated.
Leaf was driving her Ford Mustang home from a doctor’s appointment back on February 5, 2015. An automated speed camera system installed on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids documented her speed as being 68 mph in a 55. These cameras scan traffic and activate when they sense a vehicle traveling over 12 mph above the speed limit. The equipment then snaps a picture of the motorist’s rear license plate. All information is passed on to law enforcement, and a police officer decides whether or not to issue a ticket.
Leaf said the roads were icy that cold winter’s day and she was actually driving slowly with other residents in the area passing her on both sides. She had never had a speeding ticket prior to this incident.
With the help of her attorney, James Larew, Leaf is hoping to show that the system violated the equal protection and process clauses of the Iowa Constitution. Police power has been delegated to a private, for-profit business law enforcement has hired to run automated camera – Gatso USA. She has also argued that the process for appealing the citation is unjust. There is a requirement for residents to appeal these types of tickets to a city administrative hearing officer, rather than directly to a magistrate or district court judge. In Leaf’s case, the city officer is the son of a resident on the police force.
“Why should I pay for a ticket I didn’t do?” Leaf asked after her hearing, adding, “Why should others have to pay for tickets they didn’t do?”
Patricia Kropf, an attorney for the city, stated in their defense, “Incremental problem solving or under inclusiveness does not make an ordinance unconstitutional.” She said that all drivers cited had adequate time to appeal, but “Hindsight is 20-20.”
Larew showed evidence in court documents that semi-trailers and government-owned vehicles are not ticketed by the camera system, only residents in their personal vehicles. His submission alleges this is “clearly arbitrary and unreasonable.” His client’s case has been lumped with another involving similar arguments from six additional resident drivers.
The cases were assigned to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 2016 and in February of this year, the court ruled in favor of the city. Following the decision, Leaf and the others were granted further review from the Supreme Court. It may take several months for a final decision to be reached.
“It shows that what seems sometimes like the smallest case can…involve really major issues,” said Drake University law professor Mark Kende.
The Iowa Department of Transportation had actually ordered the speed cameras removed a year before Leaf was ticketed, but Cedar Rapids had been allowed to keep them during appeal. Currently, Iowa is the only state to allow automated speed cameras on its highways.