>As a St. Louis Criminal Defense attorney who handles all types of traffic matters in the St. Louis area, I've seen a variety of issues arise with the use of red light cameras. Several of these ordinances have been a source of contention across the state. Last month Mark Neill, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge went one step further. Building on his preliminary ruling from last May, he ruled that St. Louis's red light camera law was unconstitutional.
Judge Neill noted two reasons for voiding the ordinance. The first, stated in the preliminary ruling, was that there was no enabling legislation passed by the state legislature that would enable municipalities to pass such an ordinance. A municipality only has the "police power" granted to it by the state.
Further, the police power would only be legitimate if "the expressed requirements or regulations...have substantial and rational relation to the health, safety, peace, comfort, and general welfare of the inhabitants of the municipality." Neill found in the preliminary ruling that the red light camera does nothing to change or regulate the streets or traffic, therefore has no substantial or rational relation to any of the legitimate grounds for exercising police power. Without enabling legislation or other proper grounds for police power, the ordinance was found to be void.
The second reason for voiding the ordinance pertains to due process. The fundamental requirement for sufficient due process is "the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time in a meaningful manner." The city would mail citations to those photographs running red lights, but these citations would be missing key information. The citations would not provide a summons, a court date or a means to contest the citation except with the defense of "someone else was driving the vehicle." These deficiencies were found to be unconstitutional violations of due process.
This may seem to conflict with the recent battle of red light cameras in Creve Coeur. However, Judge Neil distinguished the two ordinances in a number of ways. First, Creve Coeur law was more like a "parking violation," imposing a fine on a vehicle's presence in the intersection regardless of who was actually driving, whereas the St. Louis ordinance was specifically a fine on the driver of the vehicle. Second, the Creve Coeur ordinance emphasized its civil nature by stating "under no circumstances may a person be imprisoned for such an infraction." The St. Louis ordinance did not have such explicit language limiting penalties.
However, Judge Neill has created some uncertainty by not enjoining the city from enforcing the red light ordinance. Neill's logic was that since the law is void, "the court [will assume] that the city will not attempt to enforce the ordinance if and when a judgment declaring the ordinance void becomes final." However, the city plans on both appealing Neill's order and continuing to operate the red light cameras citywide. It then becomes a gamble for those who are caught by the red light cameras--do you pay the fine or ignore it, betting on Neill's ruling holding up on appeal.
If you find yourself receiving a citation due to a red light camera are in need of a St. Louis criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your rights, contact Sansone/Lauber today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: "St. Louis red-light camera law remains in limbo," by Jennifer Mann, published at STLToday.com.