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State Appeals Court Hears Trio Of Red Light Camera Cases

A judge has thrown out the city of St. Louis' ordinance that allows the use of red light cameras.
via Flickr/functoruser
A judge has thrown out the city of St. Louis' ordinance that allows the use of red light cameras.

The Missouri Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today in constitutional challenges to three red light camera ordinances in the St. Louis area.

Judges in St. Louis County have upheld the laws in Florissant and Creve Coeur. The St. Louis city ordinance has been declared invalid, although citations continue to be issued. 

The exact legal details of the cases varied, including when in the process the judges issued their rulings. But generally, opponents of the laws questioned whether the three cities had the authority to enact them, and if the due process rights of those nabbed by the cameras were adequately protected.

In all three cases, a ticket goes to the owner of the car, regardless who is driving. Opponents argue that unfairly forces a defendant to prove innocence, rather than the state having to prove guilt. Their attorneys also argued that Missouri law regulates who can be ticketed for running red lights, and the cities had no right to expand that to car owners. 

"The text of the constitution is clear that [charter cities] do have limitations on them - one of the limitations being whether or not there are state statutes that speak on the same issues," said attorney Ryan Keane, who argued against the Creve Coeur and Florissant laws.

Supporters of red light cameras vigorously defended their constitutionality.

"What I like to keep in mind is that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled some years ago that there is no constitutional right to run a red light," said Ed Dowd, an attorney for American Traffic Solutions, which runs many of the cameras in question. "And he found that the kind of ordinances that were discussed today were valid, were constitutional because they were trying to protect lives."

Keane says evidence shows the cameras actually increase accidents at intersections where they are installed.

The same panel of appeals judges is set to hear a challenge to Arnold's red light camera law, which was the first of its kind approved. A trial judge must still rule on a challenge to Hazelwood's ordinance. And the Court of Appeals for the state's western district will consider a challenge to Kansas City's law on March 20. (See page 10).

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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