6/12/2013Missouri Appeals Court Strikes Down Red Light Camera Ordinance
State Court of Appeals invalidates St. Louis, Missouri red light camera ordinance.
Missouri's second-highest court on Tuesday ruled the St. Louis municipal ordinance authorizing the use of red light cameras is invalid. St. Louis adopted the photo ticketing ordinance in 2005, without the permission of the state legislature. The measure presumes the owner of the vehicle is always the person driving it, which allows the city to prosecute the owner through the mail with penalties of up to $500 and ninety days in jail.
American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the private company in charge of the program, began issuing $100 red light camera tickets in 2007. One of the early recipients, Alexa Smith, filed suit after her car was accused of making a right-hand turn on red. Smith paid the fine under the threat of "further legal action by the city of St. Louis" if she failed to do so. Several others joined her in a class action.
In February 2012, Circuit Judge Mark H. Neill found St. Louis lacked the authority to create the program without enabling legislation from the state (view ruling). The three-judge appellate panel disagreed with that assessment but found a different problem. St. Louis failed to meet Missouri court rules for proper notice because its notice of violation only offered two options: name someone else who was driving or pay the fine, leaving no option for an innocent driver to defend himself.
"City may not disregard the requirements of Rule 37.33 and its own Local Rule 69.18 by failing to provide Smith notice of her right to plead not guilty and contest the violation in court, and later claim that Smith waived those rights because she paid the fine and did not contest the violation in court," Judge Kurt S. Odenwald wrote for the court. "By so doing, city clutches to two irreconcilable positions. More simply stated, city cannot have it both ways."
The court pointed out that Missouri Supreme Court rules are binding on all jurisdictions in the state and cannot be waived. The ruling suggested St. Louis deliberately failed to give proper notice as a way to "intimidate vehicle owners."
"As the political and public debate as to the desirability of automated traffic enforcement continues, it is not lost on this court that the notices mailed by city to vehicle owners produce the exact results desired by city, i.e., payment of fines by vehicle owners without resort to legal proceedings or challenge," Odenwald wrote.
Despite the misdeeds of St. Louis, the court found the illegal procedures did not justify a refund for Smith because she voluntarily paid the fine to the city. The court also held that a 1971 amendment to the state constitution granted St. Louis and other constitutional charter cities the same power as the General Assembly to enact laws for itself, including a camera ordinance. Judge Neill ruled that St. Louis lacked authority to implement cameras, specifically rejecting the contention that the camera ordinance conflicted with state law. The appellate court suggested that Judge Neill's reasoning was backward.
"While we question the trial court's decision as to whether the ordinance conflicts with Missouri statutes, neither party appeals that determination," Odenwald wrote. "Accordingly, we do not and cannot address that issue here."
The judges concluded by questioning the revenue motives of camera use and asking the question of whether that is any different from the way in which cities use radar guns.
A copy of the decision is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.