Judge Finds St. Louis, MO's Red Light Camera Ordinance Invalid, Orders Halt Of Ticket Enforcement

from the sure-to-be-followed-shortly-by-handwringing-over-'lost'-revenue dept

Another red light camera company is in trouble, this time in St. Louis, MO, where a judge has just invalidated the city’s red light camera ordinance. American Traffic Solutions (whose legal issues we’ve detailed here previously) has just had its camera system kicked to the curb as a result of some questionable moves it made during a recent lawsuit.

A St. Louis judge issued an order Tuesday that invalidates the city’s red-light camera ordinance.

Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer wrote in the order that the city is prohibited from attempting to enforce the ordinance, sending violation notices, processing payments or sending collection letters relating to the tickets.

So what prompted Ohmer to shut down the system? Well, the tickets that were central to the case, which were over a year old at the point of the suit’s filing, were dismissed almost immediately after the lawsuit was filed. Why the sudden show of largesse?

Those named in the suit — including the city, Mayor Francis Slay, Police Chief Sam Dotson and American Traffic Solutions Inc., which operates the cameras — had argued to dismiss it. Some of the defendants said the claims were moot because the tickets had been dismissed and that the petitioners lacked standing because they were not hurt by the ordinance.

Ohmer didn’t let this transparent attempt to dodge a legal battle go unnoticed.

“Here, it is clear that the City dismissed the Petitioners’ tickets for the sole reason of avoiding an injunction in this matter, which the Court was poised to enter following the November hearing,” he wrote.

Nearly every other claim made by the defendants was rebuffed by Judge Ohmer. The defendant’s argued the plaintiffs had other venues to pursue their claims, like the municipal court, but a recent decision found that this court didn’t provide adequate remedy for their claims. The defendants also argued the two filers didn’t meet the requirements for a class action lawsuit. Judge Ohmer pointed out that the pair satisfied the “class action” stipulations because the ordinance affected other citizens.

The key element found to be in violation of state law is the fact that ATS’ cameras (like all traffic enforcement cameras) presume the registered owner of the vehicle is the driver. This common aspect becomes even more problematic when the ticketed person has very limited avenues for recourse, which also unfortunately tends to be the case with automated enforcement. (This is also one of several problems with the recently introduced legislation that would allow Oklahoma police officers to issue traffic citations without leaving their vehicles.)

This combination of factors has led some traffic camera companies to basically convert their enforcement systems into purely voluntary operations. As the article notes, another Missouri city’s council members recently voted unanimously to not enforce red light camera tickets. The camera system will be allowed to keep running and issuing citations but the city and the red light camera company won’t pursue those who ignore tickets and will erase fines for anyone who contests their citation. Feeling safer yet, drivers?

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Companies: american traffic solutions

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Comments on “Judge Finds St. Louis, MO's Red Light Camera Ordinance Invalid, Orders Halt Of Ticket Enforcement”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

My uncle lives in the DC area. I saw him at Thanksgiving last year, and the subject of traffic cameras came up, and here’s what he had to say on the subject:

You guys here [Seattle area, which according to insurance company records has some of the most civilized drivers in the country] can’t even imagine how bad it is out there. Like, people going out in the middle of an intersection when the light’s green but the entire block in front of them is stacked up, and if you don’t do that–if you try to keep the intersection clear, like the law says–they’ll honk their horns at you and then drive around you and stop in the middle of the intersection. Stupid crap like that happens all the time.

And now they’re putting up these traffic cameras, and these idiot drivers are all getting mad at all the tickets they’re getting. I know one guy, drives like a total maniac, and he’s gotten something like 40 tickets from those cameras, and he just flips out with each one because he thinks he’s not doing anything wrong.

Having recently moved from Seattle, where the drivers are generally well-behaved and civilized, even in heavy traffic, to Los Angeles, where traffic is just as bad as anything in DC as near as I can tell, I’m all for these cameras if they can hold the idiot drivers around me accountable and maybe even take a few repeat offenders off the road before they end up killing someone.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s the problem: the cameras don’t hold the driver accountable. They hold the registered owner accountable, without any evidence the registered owner was the driver. Compare this to when a cop writes you a ticket after pulling you over: they take the information from the driver’s license of the person behind the wheel, and issue the ticket to the actual driver.

Seems to me that if your uncle’s right, the DC cops could make a killing just by dropping a few cops off at an intersection and having them wait for drivers to do what your uncle describes, then flip the lights to a 4-way red and amble up to the cars and start issuing tickets. Put the announcement on the morning news: “We’ll have enforcement teams at 8 intersections during rush hour. Good luck guessing which 8.”. The tickets will be air-tight.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Vehicles do not commit crimes or more generally objects do not commit crimes. People commit crimes. Held those responsible accountable is the basis of every viable ethical and legal system. Once this is lost, there is no reason to respect the legal system because one can held responsible for the actions of others who may never be held accountable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your wheeled death-machine, your responsibility. If you get a ticket with someone else at the wheel, take it up with them. If you know you’ll have problems with that, don’t let them drive your freaking car.

That’s the way it works over here, and it’s working pretty damn well. We do have an online system to protest invalid tickets (say a red light that was run because you’re moving out of the way of an ambulance), and to see exactly under what circumstances you got it (location, photo, speed, time limits, etc).

I’ve gotten the occasional ticket, in my own car and in someone else’s, and have always come to a satisfactory arrangement, either by paying them or by succesfully protesting it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is why it is allowed under administrative law (which is where most jurisdictions place these cases) where you can’t be imprisoned for the offense. If you can only be fined and it does not go on your criminal record, then, recovering your losses can be handled in the manner in which you suggest. However, how are you supposed to “take up” the fact that you were jailed for an offense you didn’t commit that now sits permanently on your record with the person who actually committed it after you trusted them with driving your vehicle in good faith?

Anonymous Coward says:

When in Libya in the early 1970s we discovered to our horror that the Libyan cops had speeding cars all figured they simply put the car in jail.

No muss no fuss about who was driving, the car was the guilty party and off to jail it went.

Does not sound like much until you spend two weeks walking in the North Africa desert.

Funny the car did not speed again.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Large corps. tend to work out deals in back rooms behind closed doors/. For the same reason many wild animals prefer not to fight and instead just bristle and put on a show. Neither really wish to receive a fatal wound.

That they went legal,and the legal route taken (read terrorist invasion), just shows they have no intention of negotiating with any .com and who is in their back pocket.

Bow down or bow out if they have their way.

radarmonkey (profile) says:

The key element found to be in violation of state law is the fact that ATS’ cameras (like all traffic enforcement cameras) presume the registered owner of the vehicle is the driver.

So how can an IP address be legally used to sue a downloader? What’s the difference and why can’t the driving part of the law be applied to computers?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because it is the “simple” answer that allows them to pass laws to “deal” with the problem.
To hold the actual party responsible would require work and effort, where if you can just hold the “owner” responsible it becomes so much easier to deal with.

The public likes to assume that even if an innocent person gets caught up in this, the system will work as they expect and the innocent will be sent on their way.

This is just bad lawmaking to get money flowing. Technology is always “perfect” so it is easier to assume it is correct and not consider that the income it provides might make those profiting not look to close at the system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Correct me if I'm wrong, but...

If by “unenforceable” you mean they can’t arrest you for failing to address the charges, you would be correct and in most places that is why these citations are not a criminal matter but rather an administrative one. You cannot be arrested for violating administrative laws where as you can for violating criminal laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Correct me if I'm wrong, but...

You’re wrong. If things worked how you think they work, the prosecution couldn’t introduce ANY physical evidence. How do you cross-examine a fingerprint, or your DNA, or the surveillance video of you shooting the convenience store clerk?

The answer is, the prosecution just needs to put a fingerprint expert, DNA analyst, or someone who watched the video on the stand. They can testify, and you can cross-examine them.

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