New Decision Rules on Constitutionality of Fixed-Camera Monitoring in Public


A fixed camera monitoring program spread throughout parts of a city is constitutional. 


Defendant Kevin Eugene Cartwright and his accomplice, Lorena Espinoza, robbed a flooring store in downtown San Diego on October 10, 2018. Espinoza went into the store first and led its owner and operator, identified as G.R., to the back of the store. Cartwright entered the store shortly thereafter “wearing a granny mask and sunglasses” and “incapacitated” G.R. by first kicking him, then shooting him three times, killing him. Cartwright then pried open the cash register and took its contents. 

Unbeknownst to Cartwright, his actions before and after the robbery/murder – getting out of a GMC Yukon and entering the store, and walking to the rear of a nearby clothing store and removing his mask, then using two different sedans to leave the area as Espinosa drove the Yukon away – were all recorded by the city of San Diego’s City I.Q. camera streetlight program. The clothing store’s security camera also showed Cartwright’s movements. 

The cameras that comprise the City I.Q. program were described by the court as being attached to various streetlights. However, they were not “situated so (that) they could peer into businesses or residences,” capturing “only the ‘public right of way.” This camera system was further described as having a “fixed position and located throughout downtown San Diego and other parts of the city. The devices capture ‘environmental data, like temperature, humidity, pressure...traffic data, like car speeds, car counts, pedestrian data, bicycle data, and even video data.’ The video feature creates high-quality, wide-lens footage, but the devices do not record sound and do not act as gunshot detectors because the city did not ‘enable the microphones.’ Footage is stored on each camera’s hard drive for five days; if it is not retrieved within five days, the camera records over the footage.”  

Via this system, the license plate on Cartwright’s Yukon was recorded, leading officers to identify him as its registered owner through DMV records, and arrest him. In a subsequent search, evidence was found linking him to both the robbery/homicide at G.R.’s flooring store, as well as having committed another robbery of an adult-content store and theater the day before. 

Cartwright was charged in state court with capital murder and a host of related charges, with eight (yes, count ’em, eight) “strike” convictions alleged. His pretrial motion to suppress the products of the City I.Q. camera streetlight system was denied. Convicted on all counts and sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of life without the possibility of parole plus 50 years to life, and a determinate prison term of 20 years and four months, defendant appealed. (The co-defendant, Espinoza, pled guilty to second-degree murder and admitted a firearm allegation, resulting in a prison sentence of 15 years to life, plus one year. She did not join in this appeal.)