12/18/2013Missouri Appeals Court Issues Third Condemnation Of Red Light Cameras
Second highest court in Missouri declares the Arnold red light camera program unconstitutional.
Missouri's second highest court is once again making up for its past support of automated ticketing machines by issuing the third in a recent series of devastating and unanimous findings that the devices violate state law. On Tuesday, a three-judge Eastern District panel weighed in with a 56-page ruling declaring unconstitutional the first camera ordinance adopted in the Show Me State.
The full Eastern District court reversed course on the issue last month, explicitly overturning past pro-camera decisions (view ruling). Within a few weeks, the Western District followed up and reached the same conclusion (view ruling). The most recent case expanded on the consequences of running an illegal photo ticketing program by finding the city cannot claim ticket recipients gave up their right to a refund or constitutional challenge because they "voluntarily" paid the citation by not contesting it in municipal court.
"We too find this ordinance -- which is similar to that of the Ellisville ordinance -- void and unenforceable," Judge Roy L. Richter wrote for the court. "Inasmuch as the ordinance is deemed void and unenforceable based upon the ordinance's conflict with state law, the Arnold Municipal Court had no subject matter jurisdiction from inception, and all the judicial proceedings based on the ordinance are consequently void."
Courts give a strong presumption to municipalities that their ordinances are lawful. The court said the city had a right to enact a camera ordinance, but that further investigation was warranted as to whether the ordinance was a reasonable traffic safety measure or a cash grab for Arnold and its for-profit vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS).
"There are sufficient allegations that city enacted the ordinance for revenue-generating purposes, not the promotion of traffic safety," Judge Richter wrote. "As did the couple in Aesop's Fable, Arnold seems to have killed the elusive goose that lays the golden egg, for the primary and fundamental purpose of the ordinance seems to be just that -- profit. Profit for Arnold and profit for ATS... When the primary and fundamental purpose of an ordinance is revenue-generation, such ordinance cannot stand."
Ryan A. Keane, the lawyer who filed the suit, will now have the power to compel Arnold and ATS to produce documents that he believes will substantiate these allegations in further proceedings.
"Red light cameras are being abused by municipal governments and American Traffic Solutions in order to generate millions of dollars in unlawful revenue," Keane told TheNewspaper.
As in the prior decisions, Arnold's ordinance conflicts with state law because it fails to impose license points for what is clearly a moving violation. The decision went on to find the ordinance deprives vehicle owners of their constitutional due process rights by creating a "rebuttable presumption" that they were operating the vehicle at the time it was photographed. Arnold's ordinance was undone by a threat the city made to issue an arrest warrant for failure to pay a ticket.
"An ordinance that is criminal in nature cannot create a rebuttable presumption as this would infringe upon a fundamental canon and procedure of this country's and this state's criminal justice system: an accused is deemed innocent until proven guilty," Judge Richter wrote. "Regardless of the capability of Arnold to legally arrest non-payers, the threat of imprisonment is sufficient to conclude that Arnold believed or intended the ordinance to be criminal, in that Arnold imposes an affirmative disability or restraint on violators."
The court remanding for further proceedings on the remaining, unresolved legal questions. A copy of the decision is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.