Greenville drops red-light camera program that faced legal challenges

Image from

Listen to this story (4 minutes)

  • Greenville City Council has voted to end a red-light camera enforcement program on Nov. 15. The program had faced multiple legal challenges, including a unanimous ruling against the city from the N.C. Court of Appeals.
  • Appeals Court judges ruled that Pitt County Schools did not collect the "clear proceeds" of red-light camera violations, meaning the program ran afoul of the state constitution's Fines and Forfeitures Clause.

Greenville City Council voted 5-1 on Monday to end its red-light camera enforcement program. The program had faced legal challenges, including a ruling against the city last March from the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The state Supreme Court later blocked that ruling, but Greenville’s red-light program faced multiple lawsuits. Each challenged the program as unconstitutional.

Greenville will stop issuing red-light citations after Nov. 15, and cameras will be deactivated at the time, according a WITN report on the city council’s vote.

The winning argument against Greenville’s red-light program at the state Appeals Court involved money.

Pitt County Schools netted about 72% of the proceeds of the city’s red-light camera program. A unanimous Appeals Court panel had ruled that the number would need to top 90% to meet state constitutional standards.

“[W]e hold that the funding framework of the RLCEP violates the Fines and Forfeitures Clause contained in Article IX, Section 7 of our State Constitution,” wrote Judge Jefferson Griffin in a case titled Fearrington v. City of Greenville.

The state constitution requires that schools secure the “clear proceeds” of fines like the ones tied to red-light tickets.

State law offers guidance about “clear proceeds,” Griffin explained. “[T]he General Assembly has defined ‘clear proceeds’ as ‘the full amount of all penalties, forfeitures, or fines collected under authority conferred by the State, diminished only by the actual costs of collection, not to exceed ten percent (10%) of the amount collected.’”

That means “at a minimum, school boards must receive 90% of the total fines and fees collected” for a program to comply with state law and the state constitution, Griffin and his fellow judges concluded.

Greenville and the Pitt County school system filed a joint brief with the N.C. Supreme Court. It rejected arguments against the red-light camera program.

“Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that the School Board is not keeping enough of the traffic fines collected,” according to the brief. “That is, Plaintiffs have sued the School Board for not receiving enough money — a claim that the School Board opposes because, ironically, the solution to this purported violation may be to shut down the red light camera program so that the School Board receives nothing.”

“In fact, according to Plaintiffs, the School Board and City should have to pay Plaintiffs (and the class they hope to represent) all of the fines previously collected by the City because the School Board did not receive enough of the fines.”

The city and school system also accused the Appeals Court of overlooking the General Assembly’s specific authorization of an interlocal agreement that allowed the red-light camera program to move forward.

The joint brief accused appellate judges of misinterpreting the state constitution. “The idea that the Fines and Forfeitures Clause can be used to take money away from a board of education runs directly contrary to the entire purpose of Article IX, Section 7, and the jurisprudence developed under that Clause.”

Regardless of the final outcome of the Fearrington case or other lawsuits, people driving in Greenville will not face the prospect of red-light camera violations after Nov. 15.

Only Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Wilmington continue to operate red-light camera enforcement programs in North Carolina.