Man upset by fines added to red light ticket

DUBLIN, Calif.

Neal didn't even know he had run a red light months earlier in San Leandro until a notice came in the mail with a link to a short video.

"It showed my car braking with my tail light on, or blinker, all the way up, I came to the stop, like I said, I was doing about a mile or two per hour, but there was not a single car around and I rolled through it," Neal said.

Neal conceded he did the crime, but it was the fine that blew him away.

"$549; I haven't had a ticket in 20 years," he said.

The Center for Investigative Reporting found traffic fines like Neal's have skyrocketed in California over the past decade, thanks to all the fees the state legislature and other government entities have tacked on to fund everything from new court construction to DNA crime labs.

In Neal's case, the first $100 was the base fine for running the red light. Add to that a state penalty assessment of $100, county assessment fee, DNA fund $50, court construction $50, state surcharge $20, emergency medical services $20, emergency air transportation $4, court operations $40, conviction assessment $35, $1 to help pay for night court, plus $59 for traffic school for the total of $549.

Ellen Mendelson is a lawyer who defends bay area drivers in red light cases. She thinks the high fees amount to an unfair tax.

"It's a totally unfair way to try to generate income for anything," she said. "It falls disproportionately on people who may not be able to afford it."

And most of the money collected doesn't even stay in the local area.

"The $100 that you saw is our portion that we get out of it," San Leandro Police Lt. Randy Brandt said.

Neal went to traffic court in Oakland to ask for the fine to be reduced but the judge there didn't want to hear it.

"Nobody in the room got a reduction," he said.

So Neal paid the ticket -- money he had to pull out of his savings.

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