Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Missouri court voids red light camera law

The Supreme Court of Missouri, in an en banc, decision, effectively voided red light camera tickets issued by any municipality when it ruled that the red light camera ordinance in Springfield violated state law by assigning a "hearing officer" to rule on municipal code violations.

Adolph Belt, a retired traffic officer, challenged a red light camera ticket he received. At his hearing he presented evidence that the yellow lights had been shortened and that this created a more dangerous intersection. He was, nonetheless, found liable and fined $100. Mr. Belt then appealed the case but his appeal was denied when circuit court found it Mr. Belt had no right to a trial de novo on the issue (the law had been written to disallow appeals from the administrative hearing.)

The court expressed its concern over limiting due process protections by classifying the offense as a civil matter, not a criminal matter.
"The administrative system at issue here is created for a violation of a red light ordinance, which typically is considered a moving violation." Missouri v. Belt, No. SC90324 (2010)
The state supreme court (click here for the opinion) found that state law dictates that a judge must hear cases involving municipal code violations - whether that be an associate circuit court judge, a municipal court judge or a county municipal court judge - except for cities with populations of more than 400,000 that are located in more than one county. Therefore, only Kansas City and St. Louis can create a process by which an administrative hearing officer presides over cases involving violations of a municipal code.

While the Transportation Code in Texas does allow such a procedure, I think it is problematic that Texas, like Missouri, has attempted to skirt due process issues by classifying a red light camera ticket as a civil violation rather than a criminal violation. Slighting due process concerns in the name of increasing revenue is just plain wrong.

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