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Oregon court upholds use of photo-radar

By Charles E. Beggs
(Salem) Statesman-Journal

SALEM – A state law allowing police to use photo radar to catch speeding drivers was unanimously upheld Thursday by the Oregon Supreme Court.

The court rejected a challenge to the law’s presumption that the registered owner is the driver of a speeding vehicle.

Police issuing photo-radar tickets don’t stop vehicles. Instead, they mail citations to the autos’ owners by using license-plate information shown in the photos.

Christine Dahl appealed after getting a ticket from Portland police that said she was driving 36 mph in a 25 mph zone.

The Multnomah County Circuit Court upheld the citation, and she was fined $85 in a decision upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

Dahl’s husband, Portland lawyer Jeffrey Dahl, argued that the law violates constitutional due-process rights and unfairly shifts the burden of proving innocence.

The Supreme Court said due process requires the state to prove the elements of crimes “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but the requirement doesn’t apply to civil offenses such as traffic violations that need proof by just a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Due process “poses no impediment to shifting the burden of persuasion to the defendant” in the traffic case, the Supreme Court said in the opinion by Justice Rives Kistler.

He said the Legislature “reasonably could select proof of ownership as the point at which the burden shifts to the registered owner to prove that he or she was not driving.”

He said Dahl didn’t submit any evidence to disprove the presumption that she was driving the vehicle.

The law requires courts to a dismiss a photo-radar ticket when an auto owner submits a certificate stating that he or she was not driving.

The 1995 photo-radar law started as a pilot project permitting use of the system by city police in Portland and Beaverton. The Legislature later extended the authority to local police agencies in Albany, Bend, Eugene, Medford and Tigard.