5/24/2012Missouri: Another Court Rules Red Light Cameras Unconstitutional
Second circuit court judge rules red light cameras in St. Louis, Missouri violate due process.
A second circuit court judge in St. Louis, Missouri on Monday ruled the use of red light cameras unconstitutional. Judge Theresa Counts Burke acquitted motorist Nicholas Pateri and state Senator Jim Lembke (R-St. Louis) for tickets they received in the mail through a procedure each argued violated their due process rights. The latest ruling echoed Circuit Judge Mark H. Neill's February decision striking down the city's program (view ruling).
"The court, having reviewed the order and amended final judgment entered in Smith v. City of St. Louis, concurs with the opinion set forth therein, as it relates to the issue of whether the city's red light camera ordinance violates defendant's right to procedural due process," Judge Burke wrote. "The court herein incorporates into this opinion pages 7 through 11 of the order and amended final judgment entered in Smith v. City of St. Louis on February 17, 2012."
That decision centered on a narrow issue regarding how the St. Louis ticket contractor, American Traffic Solutions, mailed out tickets that did not contain a court date or a notice that the citation could be challenged on grounds other than someone else was driving or the car had been stolen. Pateri and Lembke had advanced a number of more sweeping legal arguments that Judge Burke did not need to consider since the smaller issue was sufficient grounds to invalidate the program.
"We're happy with this limited victory," Hugh A. Eastwood, attorney for the defendants, told TheNewspaper in an interview. "Judge Burke did not get to some of those arguments... We know this battle is not over. This is something that is going to go up to the Court of Appeals and likely to the Supreme Court."
A diversity of legal opinion boosts the change that the higher courts will take on the question. A St. Louis County judge supported a camera program in March, creating a split among the lower court rulings (view opinion). The Court of Appeals -- led by an appellate judge who is a relative of an ATS lobbyist -- upheld a red light camera ordinance last October (view opinion) by assuming photo tickets are just like parking tickets. In March 2010, the state Supreme Court noted that it believed red light camera violations are moving violations (view opinion). Eastwood hopes to bring that argument and the argument that the unauthorized camera programs violate statutory requirements that local traffic laws be uniform throughout the state.
"There are 92 municipalities in the region, some of them are three blocks long," Eastwood said. "When you get these tiny municipalities, they are starved for revenue and they love these red lights. It really is a bad situation where the innocent driver -- whether they're from Missouri or not -- may go through many cities over the course of a few miles' drive. They may have different red light camera programs with different ordinances and different rules. Different procedures for assessing liability whether it's against the driver or the owner."
St. Louis could ask for a reconsideration of the judges order. Judge Neill's decision is currently under appeal.
A copy of the decision is available in a 75k PDF file at the source link below.