Guy runs a red light in a vehicle he doesn't own. Owner gets all the information and a slip to identify the driver. Can the owner just send a letter like this and have the violation(s) dropped:

I, the owner of said vehicle, am not the driver (see attached redacted copy of driver's license) in the photo provided. I will not be held to answer for the driver.

The driver and the owner are friends. This all took place in California. Both people are Californian residents.

Some relevant exposition:

Yet traffic cameras do not always produce probable cause that a particular person has committed a crime. To get around this “problem” (as a certain law-and-order president-elect might call it), several states have created an entirely novel phylum of law: the civil violation of a criminal prohibition. Using this nifty device, a city can charge you of a crime without any witnesses, without any probable cause determination, and without any civil due process.

In short, municipal officials and their private contractors have at their disposal the powers of both criminal and civil law and are excused from the due process duties of both criminal and civil law. It’s a neat trick that would have made King George III blush. - Adam J. MacLeod

It's interesting too, that the driver identification slip is not to be sent to the county in which the violation occurred, but to the location of the traffic system's place of business, which is in another state.

Also, if you're interested, maybe you could help come up with something clever to put in the "For:" section of the check I'll most likely end up writing. I'm thinking "due process" with a line through it.

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    I would imagine that you would need to nominate the person who is the driver in most cases, otherwise you assume responsibility unless you claim the car was taken without your permission, etc. Otherwise, the absurd conclusion is that as long as you're not the driver, you can lend your car to a friend to break any and all traffic laws.
    – jimsug
    Jan 15, 2017 at 22:25
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    ...any and all traffic laws that are governed by cameras...
    – Domemy
    Jan 15, 2017 at 22:26
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    I would suspect that the police or a court can do annoying things to you if you hand over your car to unknown persons, and they can do different annoying things to you if you hand over your car to known persons who commit traffic violations. You have a right not to incriminate yourself, but no right not to incriminate someone else.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 15, 2017 at 22:53
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    How do they know that there doesn't exist a reason that by way of incriminating someone else I'm incriminating myself?
    – Domemy
    Jan 15, 2017 at 23:08
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    This is where you need a lawyer. This place wklaw.com/practice-areas/fight-traffic-ticket-california/… says you don't have to rat out your friend, but you do need a lawyer to resist the judge's curiosity.
    – user6726
    Jan 16, 2017 at 0:10

3 Answers 3


Sending a letter to the red light camera company or police department may or may not get the charge dropped before trial. But whether the charge gets dropped before trial isn't the important question -- after all, people sometimes do get charged wrongly -- rather, the question is, if it goes to trial, whether you will win.

Since this question is about California, all traffic tickets in California, including red light camera tickets, are criminal cases (that's why the case will be named "People of the State of California v. [your name]" in court documents). The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and the standard of evidence is "beyond a reasonable doubt". There is no provision in California law to fine or otherwise punish the owner of a vehicle for a moving violation, except through a conviction as the driver who committed the violation.

If you plead not guilty and it goes to trial, the burden will be on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was you. If the driver in the picture does not look like you, there is no way they can meet that burden, and the court must find you not guilty. (In most cases the prosecution will immediately drop the case when they discover that the picture does not look like you.) Note that you have an absolute right to not testify in your own criminal trial where you are the defendant, so there is no way they can force you to testify at the trial about who the driver was if it was not you (which would be irrelevant to the case against you anyhow).

If you do not say who the driver was, and the police department fail to guess who it was (e.g. by searching for drivers whose licenses share the same address as you for someone who looks like the one in the picture), then nobody gets fined or punished for the violation. This is true even if you know full well who the driver was, or even if you were pictured sitting right next to them. You don't need to claim not to know who the driver was, because whether you know or not doesn't matter -- you have no legal obligation to tell the identity of the driver even if you know, and you cannot be fined or otherwise punished for the violation if you intentionally refuse to tell.


(I am deliberately not citing specific laws, as the correct answer is likely to turn on precise sections of the California criminal code, for which OP should consult a qualified attorney not the Internet. But this is still an answer not a comment because of the question's actual phrasing.)

There is no way a letter is going to have the violation(s) dropped, as it or they definitely took place, and the fact that you are the registered owner provides a presumption that you were responsible unless you offer another reasonable explanation. ("Somebody else took my car with my consent, but I don't know who" is unlikely to qualify.) If the matter actually goes to court, you would probably have a good defence if you stated on oath "I was not the driver, as you can see by comparing me to the camera footage." However, once you are on oath, you can be asked, on cross-examination, "Your car was not, apparently stolen; do you know who the driver actually was?": a reasonable way of testing your credibility, and not incriminating you, so not involving the Fifth Amendment. From there things can only get worse until you identify the real driver, in which case you can save time and expense by providing his details to the traffic system now and warning him of the situation.

If he denies it, there would be an interesting point about who has to prove what to the satisfaction of the judge or jury. However, unless you are more interested in the principle than the actual expense (lawyers love that sort of client), the sensible advice would be to pay the ticket, and be more careful when lending your car in future.

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    In Oregon a few years ago I received a form letter in very similar circumstances. It had a "that's not me in the picture" line. I did not have to name the person though I recall there being a place to do so and nothing more came of it. This leads me to call your answer speculative. I'm prepared to believe the laws have "improved" and I expect CA to be ahead of OR in these things, but it'd be nice to cite something.
    – user4460
    Jan 16, 2017 at 17:35
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    I really don't see how, in order have the accusation against you dropped that you would have to say who the driver was. It should be enough that the video or picture shows the driver not to be you. The 'fact' (reality) that cities and states have subverted the constitution and laws in order to basically steal from people is still wrong. The original question was right - it's a new Phylum of law.
    – mark b
    Feb 17, 2017 at 20:57
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    "If the matter actually goes to court..." In that case, wouldn't the OP have his own lawyer? And, when the "Who dunnit?" question came up, wouldn't said lawyer object as the question is not relevant to the matter at hand? I would imagine that the state's own photo evidence would be enough to dismiss the charges; after that, wouldn't it be up to the state to figure out who was in the picture, as a separate matter? May 16, 2017 at 23:52
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    In the UK, there's always a choice: Either someone admits to it, pays a fine and gets points on his or her license, or things go to court. Going to court will be more expensive. You will always get a letter: "This is what happened. You are the owner of the car, please tell us who the driver is". You can tell them who the driver is (often yourself), or things will go to court.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 15, 2017 at 19:28
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    "If the matter actually goes to court, you would probably have a good defence if you stated on oath ..." All moving violations in California are criminal cases. A defendant does not have to testify in his own criminal trial to win -- the burden of proof is on the prosecution, to prove that the person charged is the driver beyond a reasonable doubt.
    – user102008
    Nov 27, 2019 at 9:16

Firstly, I am not a lawyer, nor your lawyer. But I would advise you to take all advise on the internet with a grain of salt, especially advice from people of the form "this unpopular thing I don't like is illegal and/or unconstitutional".

Was your car stolen? If not (i.e. you allowed the driver to use your vehicle), you are liable for the driver's misconduct, under the doctrine of vicarious liability.

Another common example of imputed negligence is attributing liability to the owner of a car, where the driver of the car committed a negligent act. This type of relationship has been labeled the family car doctrine. The doctrine is based on the assumption that the head of the household provides a car for the family's use and, therefore, the operator of the car acts as an agent of the owner. When, for example, a child drives a car, registered to a parent, for a family purpose, the parent is responsible for the negligent acts of the child at the wheel.

Liability can also be imputed to an owner of a car who lends it to a friend. Again, the driver of the car is acting as the agent of the owner. If the owner is injured by the driver's negligence and sues the driver, the owner can lose the lawsuit because the negligence of the driver can be imputed to the owner, thereby rendering him contributorily negligent. This concept is known as imputed contributory negligence.

Source: https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/vicarious+liability(bold emphasis mine)

Essentially, you can have legal responsibility for your friend's driving actions in your car.

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    Vicarious liability is a matter of tort law, not criminal law.
    – MSalters
    Nov 28, 2019 at 12:14

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