A circuit court judge in St. Louis, Missouri on Friday ruled the city’s use of automated ticketing machines violated state law. Since 2007, St. Louis gave the private company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) the right to issue tickets worth more than $30 million to the registered owners of vehicles that are photographed at local intersections. A class action suit by several motorists challenged the program on various legal and constitutional grounds.
Circuit Judge Mark H. Neill rejected most arguments claiming the program violated due process rights, although he left open the possibility that the city failed to notify ticket recipients of their right to a hearing. The plaintiffs came much closer to success when arguing that the local ordinance violated a state law requiring all moving violations be reported to the state Department of Revenue so that license points could be imposed.
“Although the ordinance is not in direct conflict with the specific statutes cited by plaintiffs, the ordinance may still be invalid if the city did not have the proper authority to enact such an ordinance,” Judge Neill ruled. “Municipalities may not enact ordinances which are contrary to or conflict with state law… The use of an automated traffic control system to police traffic offenses is a drastic departure from the traditional police powers granted to municipalities; and as seen here, it raises a whole host of legal and constitutional issues. A municipality may only exercise its police powers under authority granted to it by the state.”
That grant has never been given Missouri. The state legislature has declined on several occasions to enact any law granting legal recognition to the use of cameras, despite a heavy lobbying effort by ATS lobbyists.
“Because the red light camera ordinance does not enact ‘rules of the road’ or ‘traffic regulations,’ the court finds, in absence of enabling legislation by the state of Missouri, that the city of St. Louis did not have authority to enact such an ordinance. Therefore, Ordinance Number 66868 is void,” Judge Neill concluded.
A close reading of the March 2010 state supreme court decision striking down Springfield’s red light camera hearing process indicated the court would look favorably on Judge Neill’s reasoning. The high court noted that Springfield had shortened the yellow timing at several intersections just prior to installing the cameras (view opinion). Oddly enough, the main law firm retained by ATS, Stinson Morrison Hecker, agreed with Judge Neill in a 2005 memo that stated red light camera tickets in Missouri would not hold up in a court of law (view full letter).
A copy of the decision is available in a 1.3mb PDF file at the source link below.