The recent decision by the Eastern District in Smith v. City of St. Louis is one more step in a long line of cases that destroys the myth that using technology to reduce accidents at intersections through the use of photo red light cameras is not within the police power of a City. In the City of St. Louis case the Court found that the City had the authority to establish the offense under its police power as a public safety measure pursuant to state law or under its home rule charter. Reducing violations of running traffic control devices is a valid use of the police power. See earlier Post predicting that the trial courts decision on this issue would be overruled. Is the St. Louis Ordinance Valid?
Furthermore, if you voluntarily paid the $100 fine for violating the ordinance you are not entitled to a refund unless it is paid under duress, which was not the case in this matter nor could refunds be claimed against the City under an unjust enrichment theory.
The Court did make a detailed analysis of what the ticket for the violation needed to include and found that the tickets issued by the City and the information provided thereto did not conform to Rule 37 because it did not include information about the right to either plead guilty or not guilty and appear at trial, nor did the ticket set a date to appear. Since the City failed to comply with Rule 37 – that governs municipal courts – the ordinance was invalid “as applied” and the City is back to ground zero with the need to rewrite its procedures for issuing tickets, although the Court provided a very clear outline of how to write tickets to implement the Ordinance based on its discussion of Rule 37.
In addition, the Court ruled that the time to challenge the ordinance with respect to due process such as self-incrimination and the right of confrontation is at the time of trial so these issues were put off for another day by reversing the trial courts decision on the due process claims. Persons charged with violation of the Ordinance will have to make their due process challenges when they defend themselves against the charge in court.
The opinion in the City of St. Louis case also debunked the use of red light cameras as a revenue generator noting that radar guns also can be used to generate revenues. There is nothing new or mysterious about the use of new technology to enforce traffic laws.
Howard Wright @ 2013