Missouri Strikes Down Red-Light Camera Ordinances
Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down local ordinances regarding the use of red-light cameras in St. Louis, Kansas City, and St. Peters. While the Court did not ultimately decide the legality of using automated cameras to enforce traffic laws, it did find that the way in which the cameras have been used in certain places is contrary to Missouri law, making the future of red-light cameras somewhat uncertain.
In City of St. Peters v. Bonnie A. Roeder, the Court found that the City of St. Peters’ red-light camera ordinance was in conflict with Missouri law. Specifically, the court held that the ordinance violated Mo. Rev. Stat. § 302.302.1, which requires the assessment of two points for a moving violation. The ordinance classified the offense as a moving violation, but did not assess any points against the license of the driver. The Court noted, however, that the ordinance would be valid if it assessed two points against the driver that violated the statute.
In Sarah Tupper v. City of St. Louis, the Court found that St. Louis’ red-light camera ordinance was unconstitutional because it shifted the burden of proof to the defendant, typically the owner of the vehicle, requiring them to prove that they were not the driver of the car at the time that it ran the light, as opposed to requiring the prosecutor to prove that the defendant was the driver.
Kansas City suspended the use of their red-light cameras since 2012 when the legality of their use became unclear. They have yet to resume use of the cameras.
While these decisions do not speak to the constitutionality of red-light cameras as a whole, they do make the future of similar ordinances somewhat uncertain. Law-makers have been reluctant to assess points against the driver for the violation because it is not always clear who the driver was without an officer present. However, as the court noted in City of St. Peters v. Bonnie A. Roeder, an ordinance that does not assess points against the driver is no longer valid. Law-makers that attempt to get around this by assessing points against a driver must be careful to not create a presumption that the owner of the car was the driver.
It is currently unclear whether ordinances that avoid these problems would be upheld in Missouri. Ten states currently prohibit the use of red-light cameras, while twenty-one states have laws explicitly allowing their use.