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In a Putative Class Action Case, Another Missouri Appellate Court Finds an Automated Red Light Camera is Unconstitutional and Void for Conflicting with State Law. Are Automated Speed Cameras Next?

A USA Today headline last year declared that automated red-light camera enforcement systems were generating both massive revenues and massive controversy. The article noted that Florida drivers paid more than $100 million in fines from red-light cameras in 2012 alone!  In Missouri, red-light enforcement systems are now the target of class actions and recent rulings suggest the gravy train for Missouri cities using these cameras, and their corporate partner, may be coming to an end.  In the latest apparent setback, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri recently found that the city of Arnold Missouri’s red-light camera enforcement ordinance was both invalid for conflicting with state law and Unconstitutional.  See Jeff Bruner and Kimberly Moore v. City of Arnold and American Traffic Solutions, Inc. , Case No. ED99034 (2013 WL 6627959).  In this putative class action, the Court found the Arnold ordinance conflicted with state law because it did not assess points for a violation, in effect treating a red-light violation as “non-moving.” In contrast, a Missouri state statute, Section 302.225, requires that municipal courts report any moving violations to the Missouri Department of Revenue for the assessment of points.  The Court, relying upon several recent previous rulings addressing red light camera ordinances that similarly did not assess points for a violation, explained that “the conduct regulated by the Ordinance is, quite simply and unambiguously, running a red light, as common sense and collective experience suggest that a person cannot fail to stop at a red light without being in motion.” Id. at p. 43  (internal citations and quotations omitted).  The court reasoned that one cannot simultaneously be non-moving and run a red light.  Accordingly, the Court found the Arnold ordinance void and unenforceable because it conflicts with Missouri law. The Court also found fault with the ordinance’s rebuttable presumption that the owner of the vehicle was the driver when the violation occurred.  The Court held that the red-light ordinance was criminal in nature because its notice of violation indicates that payment is an “admission of guilt or liability” and includes the threat of issuing a warrant if the vehicle owner fails to pay or otherwise dispose of the matter.  Because the red-light enforcement ordinance is criminal in nature, the Court held that the ordinance’s rebuttable presumption impermissibly shifted the burden of proof to the vehicle owner, the defendant, to prove he or she was not the driver, in violation of Missouri’s Constitution.    The Arnold case is just the latest one out of the Missouri Court of Appeals questioning the validity of red light enforcement ordinances.  According to a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a number of municipalities are putting their red light camera enforcement programs on hold, while others, including Creve Coeur, Missouri, are considering amending the statute to comply with Missouri law by assessing points.Although this opinion does not address speed camera violations, many of those ordinances similarly do not assess points for what must also be considered, based on “common sense and collective experience,” a moving violation and simply assume the owner of the vehicle was driving when the violation occurred, shifting the burden of proof to the owner to prove otherwise.