On August 18, the ordinance that governs red-light cameras in St. Louis was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court. This also covers similar ordinances in Moline Acres and St. Peters.
St. Louis has responded by dismissing all pending cases and has stopped issuing red-light tickets. Citizens who recently paid the $100 tickets can expect to get a refund. The city has not yet decided how to issue the refunds.
The attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the red-light cases was pleased with the ruling of the court. He believes if they had lost the case that the red-light cameras would have multiplied extensively putting a huge burden on the middle class with the fines.
Even though the court found defects in the three ordinances, it did not make a specific ruling on the legal aspect of the cameras themselves. This leaves the possibility open that individual cities can enact their own ordinances that could hold up against any future legal proceedings.
According to leading traffic-camera provider, American Traffic Solutions, the ruling has upheld the valid use of photographic evidence in cases involving running red lights and speeding. A representative of the company has said that they are looking forward to working with Missouri communities to restart their safety programs under full compliance with the issued rulings.
Challenges to Traffic Camera Ordinances
Challenging traffic cameras has been complicated in the past. In a case brought last year by Sarah Tupper and Sandra Thurmond, after their cars were photographed running red lights, St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer invalidated the ordinance. Both women had claimed that someone else had been driving their cars at the time they were issued the tickets.
Judge Ohmer placed his order on hold to allow an appeal to be brought by proponents of the red-light camera ordinance. The city was still issuing tickets, but the fines were put in an escrow account pending the case’s conclusion. The Supreme Court affirmed Judge Ohmer’s order on Tuesday. The court also found that ordinance 66868 is unconstitutional because it causes the burden of proof to improperly shift to the defendant making them have to prove that they were not driving at the time the ticket was issued.
City attorney, Michael Garvin, argued last December that the city presumed the owner of the vehicle was driving at the time the camera captured the violation on film. He stated that the owner is driving about 70%-80% of the time. He also added that the camera only takes a picture of the car’s tags. The argued response to this was that automobile owners can rebut the claim if they receive a ticket, but that means that undue difficulty is placed on the owner which takes away their rights of due process.
Missouri Supreme Court Ruling on Traffic Cameras
The Supreme Court also ruled that the red-light ordinances conflict with state law because they don’t allow the assessment of penalty points that the state law allows. The Court found the part of the ordinance that states no points will be given against the offender’s driving record is in conflict with state law.
There is a plan to put a measure on the August 2016 ballot to ban red-light cameras across the entire state of Missouri. It didn’t pass in this year’s legislative session.
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