June, 2006

Minneapolis Photo Cop Ordinance Ruled Invalid

On March 14, 2006, Hennepin County District Court Judge Mark Wernick granted our motion to dismiss in State of Minnesota v. Daniel Alan Kuhlman, ruling that the Minneapolis photocop ordinances were invalid. Howard Bass, who represents Mr. Kuhlman as an ACLU-MN volunteer attorney, filed a 30-page brief in December 2005 arguing that the ordinances were invalid because by shifting liability for red light violations from drivers to vehicle owners the ordinances were inconsistent with and, therefore, violated state law. Judge Wernick agreed with this argument and struck down the illegal ordinances on March 14, 2006. Within hours of his ruling, the Minneapolis Police Department turned off its photocop cameras.

Because Judge Wernick invalidated the ordinances on the basis that they conflicted with state law, he did not reach the numerous important constitutional issues raised in our motion to dismiss. In addition to being in conflict with state law, Minneapolis' photocop ordinances violate substantive due process by imposing strict vicarious liability on vehicle owners. The ordinances also violate several important procedural due process rights.

For example, Minneapolis' photocop ordinances violate the constitutional presumption of innocence by presuming that vehicle owners were driving their vehicles at the time of the alleged red light violations. Furthermore, the photocop ordinances unconstitutionally relieve the City of its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and instead require vehicle owners to prove their innocence. Finally, by compelling vehicle owners to identify the drivers of their vehicles at the time of the alleged red light violations, the ordinances violate their privilege against self-incrimination.

On March 21, 2006, the City appealed Judge Wernick's ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The City filed its appellate brief on April 3, 2006, and we filed our 45-page responsive brief eight days later on April 11, 2006. The Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has filed an amicus brief in support of Judge Wernick's ruling. Oral argument before the court of appeals is scheduled for June 27, 2006, at 9:30 a.m., at the Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul.

Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties Cannot Be Sacrificed

While the photocop ordinance case involved only a petty misdemeanor traffic violation, it presented numerous significant statutory and constitutional issues. Judge Wernick's opinion in Kuhlman should renew our confidence in the judiciary's commitment to protecting our due process rights. Nevertheless, some have criticized his decision on public safety grounds. Yet, as Ben Franklin once said: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." We must never permit our constitutional rights and civil liberties to be sacrificed on the alter of public safety or national security.

At the Bass Law Firm, there are no small cases when it comes to constitutional rights and civil liberties. Together with the ACLU-MN, the Bass Law Firm stands ready to guard your freedoms and liberty. Links to our District Court Memorandum in Support of our Motion to Dismiss, Judge Wernick's District Court Opinion in Kuhlman, and the brief we filed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals appear above.