By on March 4, 2010

The supreme court of Missouri sent photo enforcement companies scrambling on Monday after it declared the red light camera administrative hearing process in the city of Springfield to be void. The high court moved with unusual speed, handing down a strongly worded, unanimous decision about one month after hearing oral arguments in the case.

“This is a $100 case,” Judge Michael A. Wolff wrote for the court. “But sometimes, it’s not the money — it’s the principle.”

At first glance, the court’s decision appeared to be limited to a technical legal issue regarding Springfield’s authority to adjudicate a photo ticket against motorist Adolph Belt in an administrative hearing. The court indicated that this was plainly not permitted under state law. Section 479.010 of the Missouri Code requires ordinance violations of this type to be heard in a circuit or municipal court. Springfield had argued that its administrative hearing officer was the first and last word on all judgments, with no appellate courts — not even the supreme court itself — having any jurisdiction over the matter.

A closer look at the ruling shows that the high court judges expressed a dim view toward the legal arguments often cited by municipalities to justify their red light cameras programs. For example, the court made it clear that no city had any authority to treat red light violations in the same manner as a parking ticket.

“The administrative system at issue here is created for a violation of a red light ordinance, which typically is considered a moving violation,” Wolff wrote.

That means no city in Missouri, including Kansas City and St. Louis, has the authority to issue civil violations that carry no points. A footnote explained further that charter cities have no power to act in areas limited by state law. Both premises are key rebuttals to the argument that municipalities in the state have the authority to create red light camera programs without the sanction of state law. The high court also called into question Springfield’s use of short yellows.

“Undeniably a traffic expert, Belt timed the yellow caution light at the intersection and found that it was rather quick,” Wolff wrote. “He also concluded that the stoplight and the cameras needed to be synchronized.”

Another footnote cited three articles by TheNewspaper that Belt had brought to the court’s attention.

“Another article he found stated that a study in Texas had found that adding an additional second to yellow lights corresponded to a 40-percent reduction in crashes [view study],” Wolff wrote. “Even so, the city of Springfield had chosen to reduce its yellow-light timing at more than 100 intersections prior to starting red light camera ticketing [view article].”

State supreme courts are now evenly split on the issue of photo enforcement. Missouri’s supreme court joined the Minnesota high court which struck down red light cameras as illegal in 2007, explaining that cities may not water down the due process protections of motorists simply for the ease of issuing tickets (view ruling). On the other hand, the Ohio Supreme Court (read opinion) and Iowa Supreme Court (read opinion) declared camera use consistent with state laws.

The Missouri Supreme Court judges voided Belt’s citation without remanding proceedings to a lower court. A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Missouri v. Belt (Supreme Court of Missouri, 3/2/2010)


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8 Comments on “Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Red Light Cameras...”

  • avatar

    Should we be surprised that a city actually reduced its yellow-light timing along with installing red light cameras? Simply amazing!

  • avatar

    The reason for red light cameras is to raise money, not safety. If the cities were interested in safety, they would add a second to the yellow light, not take one away. Aren’t the governments here to serve us? Red light cameras seem to say “No”. I should add I strongly support good safety measures, but the purpose is to prevent accidents, not make money.

  • avatar

    Making yellow lights artificially and unpredictably short – so more drivers are busted by cameras – is dangerous, and I wouldn’t be surprised if doing so leads to more crashes.

    At a typical Philadelphia traffic light (where there are no red light cameras), if there are no police present in the scrum of cars, traffic flows through the full duration of the yellow without slowing and continues several seconds after the light has changed to red.

    This is illegal behavior, but it is the norm in Philly, and everyone tacitly understands that this is how things are done. If you don’t run the end of the yellow or the beginning of the red like everyone else, you risk being rear-ended in most cases.

    If suddenly yellow lights were a couple seconds shorter, chaos would certainly ensue.

  • avatar

    New York municipalities also have very short yellows, although not photo radar as far as I know. Ontario, on the other hand had longer yellows and consequently much less sudden braking at traffic lights.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately, we do have cameras. I have heard that it is still technically a pilot program, but I’m not sure if that’s true anymore.

      They don’t point licenses, but they do have an open book policy with the insurance companies. I know this because a friend lost his auto insurance after pleading guilty to a red light camera ticket. They don’t do anything but cause rear enders and raise revenue (anyone who knows where they are slams on the brakes, no one else is expecting it). Oddly enough, it doesn’t appear that city councilmen are even aware of the issue (as a potential political hot potato), during the last election I spoke to two while they were talking it up at my train station and they were very suprised when I brought it up. My position was I’d donate and volunteer for any elected official making an issue of it, regardless of party affiliation, and two others present also agreed.

  • avatar

    In the State of Washington, the fines they levy have just been adjudicated as Ok. Case against the cameras thrown out.

  • avatar

    My shanty is in Springfield, MO, the heart of hillbilly land and chock-full of backwards inbred roadkill-for-dinner mental midgets with a large percentage of mental midgets who equate loud exhaust as a reminder to all of their manliness.

    A class-action lawsuit has already commenced for folks to retrieve fines already paid issued via tickets resulting from a red-light camera.

    On the whole, the driving ’round these parts is not excessively dangerous, not nearly as bad as I witnessed in Nebraska or Iowa and generally a minimal amount of road rage incidents.

    Oh, sure, perhaps a scuffle over who gets to retrieve the road kill for the dinner pot now-and-then but gun play is quite minimal compared to how things were in California when I dwelt out yonder over that, y’all.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey now. That’s only about 99% of the denizens of Springfield.

      The other .01% is Wal-Mart money. And they do have piles of it.

      Just a thought.

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