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Missouri Supreme Court Invalidates Red Light Camera Ordinances

The en banc Missouri Supreme Court held on August 18, 2015 that red light camera enforcement ordinances in three cities were invalid because they violated state law or due process.

The City of St. Peters, Missouri enacted ordinance 4536, codified as City Code Section 335.095, which authorized a red light enforcement system. The ordinance classified a violation as an infraction and provided that “in no case shall points be assessed against any person ... for a conviction of a violation of the City Traffic Code detected through the automated red light enforcement system.” However, Missouri Statute Section 302.302.1 requires that two points be assessed toward the suspension or revocation of driver’s licenses for any moving violation. A conviction under the ordinance constituted a “moving violation.”

On June 15, 2012, St. Peters officials sent Bonnie Roeder a notice of violation of the red light ordinance. She moved to dismiss, arguing that the notice violated her due process rights. The trial court denied the motion and a jury found Roeder guilty of violating the ordinance. Following a Missouri Court of Appeals decision declaring a similar ordinance void in Unverferth v. City of Florissant, 419 S.W.3d 76 (Mo. App. 2013), Roeder filed a motion for acquittal. The court granted the motion, holding pursuant to Unverferth that the ordinance conflicted with state law.

The state Supreme Court agreed that “by classifying a moving violation as a non-point offense, ordinance 4536 prohibits what state law permits and is in conflict with state law.” Although the invalid portion of the ordinance could be severed, the Court found that only prospective severance and enforcement was authorized. “Giving effect to that severance and enforcing the valid provisions in this case would violate Ms. Roeder’s right to fair notice of a direct consequence of her conviction,” the court found. “Because Ms. Roeder did not have fair notice that points would be assessed at the time of the violation, this Court will not give effect to severance and permit enforcement of the valid portions of ordinance 4536 in Ms. Roeder’s case.” See: City of St. Peters v. Roeder, Mo.SW3d, (Mo 2015)(en banc). St. Louis officials enacted ordinance 66868, which is a similar red light camera ordinance, codified as section 17.07.010 of the city’s code.

Between March 2012 and September 2013, Sarah Tupper and Sandra Thurmond received notices that they both violated the ordinance twice. Tupper challenged one violation. She was found guilty of the charge but the court subsequently granted her motion for acquittal based on a recent Court of Appeals decision invalidating other red light camera ordinances.

Tupper did not challenge her other violation and Thurmond didn’t challenge either of her violations. They were found guilty of those charges and fined $100 for each violation.

Tupper and Thurmond brought suit in state court seeking to permanently enjoin enforcement of the ordinance, arguing that it violated state law and their due process rights. After a bench trial the court dismissed the tickets against Tupper and Thurmond, finding that ordinance 66868 is invalid because it was found to be void in Smith v. City of St. Louis, 409 S.W.3d 404 (Mo. App. 2013), but the city had not fixed the noted deficiencies at issue in Smith.

The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed, finding that “ordinance 66868 is constitutionally invalid because it creates a rebuttable presumption that shifts the burden of persuasion onto the defendant to prove that the defendant was not operating the motor vehicle at the time of the violation.”

The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to award the Plaintiffs attorney’s fees, however, because “the city’s prior enforcement of the ordinance was not intentional misconduct sufficient to justify an award of attorney’s fees.” See: Tupper v. City of St. Louis, Mo. xx S.W.3d (Mo. 2015).

The City of Moline Acres also adopted a red light camera ordinance in City Code section 395.010. In 2012, the City sent Charles Brennan a notice that he violated the ordinance. Brennan moved to dismiss, arguing that the ordinance and notice are invalid and unenforceable because it violates state law and Brennan’s due process rights. The trial court dismissed, holding that the ordinance violated state speeding statutes.

The violation notice failed to identify the date and time of Brennan’s first court appearance, or to show that there was probable cause to believe Brennan violated the ordinance. The Court agreed that the Notice did not comply with Missouri Supreme Court Rule 37.33(a) and prosecution based on such a defective notice would violate Brennan’s due process rights.

“The information charging Brennan is invalid under Rule 37.34 because it is not supported by a notice that conforms to the requirements of Rule 37.33(a), and because it is not supported by a notice substantially in the form of Form 37.A as required by Rule 37.33(c),” the Court held. “Accordingly, the trial court’s dismissal of that information with prejudice must be affirmed.” See: City of Moline Acres v. Brennan, 470 S.W.3d 367 (Mo. 2015).

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Related legal case

City of Moline Acres v. Brennan