The Last Word on Red Light Cameras in Missouri

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-red-color-traffic-light-image16973177      We previously wrote blogs on various red-light traffic ticket ordinances in Missouri and the fact that the Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled that various ordinances are in conflict with Missouri state law.  One such ordinance that was ruled invalid was the City of Ellisville, Missouri’s ordinance.  The Ellisville City Council just decided to end the use of its red-light cameras and will remove their red-light cameras and terminate their contract with American Traffic Solutions.

     Also, based on the rulings by the Missouri Court of Appeals, various other cities whose ordinances have been determined improper and the company that owns and operates the cameras on the traffic lights appealed the decisions of the Missouri Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Missouri.  The City of Kansas City and American Traffic Solutions, Inc. sought transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court, but this was denied.  (SC93907).  The City of Creve Coeur also sought to transfer a case to the Missouri Supreme Court, but that also was denied.  (SC93947).  What is interesting is that in September 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Florissant, Missouri’s red-light camera ordinance was valid, and the plaintiffs who were ticketed appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri; that request for transfer was denied as well.  What this suggests is that the Supreme Court of Missouri does not wish to hear issues related to red-light traffic tickets, although they could decide to review a case that was decided by the Court of Appeals if the case was decided on constitutional issues.

     It should be also noted that the City of St. Louis has always claimed that their ordinance on red-light traffic tickets was valid since it did not claim that “no points were assessed” but left that decision to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  However, St. Louis City Judge Steven Ohmer, recently ruled that the city ordinance was invalid.  See Sarah Tupper, et al. v. City of St. Louis, et al., 1322-CC10008. The order granted a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the red-light camera ordinance, sending out any notices of violation, processing payments on tickets, or sending collection letters relating to the tickets.  The St. Louis City announced that it would appeal Judge Ohmer’s decision.    We will continue to watch this matter and update our blog as events develop.

#redlightcamera   #missourilaw

Nothing posted on Evidentiary Matters is to be considered legal advice or advertising.   
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements

Is There Really a Loophole in Missouri’s DWI Law?

A recent front-page article in the Post-Dispatch reported on a potential loophole in Missouri’s DWI law.  By way of background, a driver who is ticketed for suspicion of DWI and has a Blood Alcohol Content (“BAC”) of at least 0.08% (more precisely stated as 0.80 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath) faces two independent proceedings.  One is the standard DWI criminal prosecution by the prosecuting attorney of the jurisdiction issuing the ticket.  The other falls to the Missouri Department of Revenue (“DOR”) and is a civil administrative proceeding under which one’s driver’s license may be suspended for up to ninety (90) days for driving with an excessive BAC.  [Not addressed in this blog is the outright refusal of a driver to submit to a BAC test which might result in the loss of one’s driving privileges for an entire year.]

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-keys-cuffs-alcohol-image28780349How do you prove that a driver was actually under the influence of alcohol?  There are several ways available to the standard prosecution – erratic driving, field sobriety tests (reciting the alphabet backwards, slurred speech, smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, etc.), admissions or statements of the driver or witnesses, and the BAC test.  But the DOR administrative procedure relies exclusively on the BAC test.

 In order to use the BAC test result in either a criminal or administrative hearing, , the prosecutor and the DOR must prove that the test result was “reliable”, and make that showing by proof that it was administered in strict compliance with the standards adopted by the Missouri Division of Health and Senior Services (“DHSS”).  The DHSS has promulgated a 141 page BAC operator manual.  One of those standards is that the BAC machine must be calibrated at least every 35 days.  In the past, the State only had to show that the machine had been calibrated to either 0.10%, 0.08% or 0.04%.  But on November 30, 2012 the DHSS published a new rule (apparently by mistake or simply not having thought through the consequences discussed here) that provided the machine should be calibrated to the 0.10%, 0.08% and 0.04% levels.

 Now DWI defense attorneys are having a field day challenging the admissibility of BAC test results unless the machine was tested at all three levels.  Consequently, most judges across the state are throwing out the BAC tests.  The result of this is that the DOR is losing most of its administrative revocation cases. 

 The ultimate impact, if any, on criminal prosecutions is yet to unfold.  As noted, in a criminal prosecution the State will elicit testimony from the arresting officer who can be relied upon to testify that the driver drove carelessly, smelled of alcohol, stumbled, mumbled and could not recite the alphabet.  This testimony is usually supplemented with videos from the patrol car’s dash camera showing the field sobriety testing and from the booking process at the police station.  The defendant’s actions and conduct are often enough to show a jury that he should not have been behind the wheel.  So, even without the BAC results a jury can usually find that there is sufficient other evidence to convince them that the defendant was guilty of DWI.  But some jurors may wonder why the State has not introduced the BAC results and conclude that, perhaps, the test results were not above the legal limit and acquit the defendant.

 The DHSS purports to have corrected this rule on January 29, 2014, so now the rule clearly requires that the BAC machine only be tested at one of the three levels – just like the former rule was written.  See 19 CSR 25-30.051.  However, the new (old) rule may also be subject to challenge because the DHSS adopted the change as an emergency rule, and that process may not have been appropriate.  [That is well beyond the topic of this blog.]

A large number of questions still exist.  For instance, is the BAC test thrown out if the arrest occurred during the “and” period but the trial is held when the “or” rule is in effect?  What if the arrest occurred during the former “or” period, e.g. October 30, 2012, and the trial was held during the “and” period, e.g. October 30, 2013?  Maybe these questions will never be answered by the courts, but they underscore the importance of attention to detail when a state agency is drafting rules that control the admissibility of important evidence.

 We will continue to monitor this development and update our blog when we have more information.

Nothing posted on Evidentiary Matters is to be considered legal advice or advertising.   
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements

#DWI  #missourilaw   #DWIlaw   #BAC

KANSAS CITY IS THE LATEST CITY TO SEE THEIR RED-LIGHT CAMERA ORDINANCE VOIDED

     In our most recent article, we commented upon Missouri’s inconsistent red-light camera rulings.  In Edwards, et al. v. City of Ellisville and American Traffic Solutions, Inc., ED99389 (2013), the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District handed down a ruling invalidating the “red-light camera” ordinance of the municipality of Ellisville, Missouri.  More recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District has held that a similar Kansas City ordinance is likewise void and unenforceable because it “permits what state law prohibits – the classification of running a red light as a non-moving violation free from the assessment of points.”  The case is Damon, et al. v. City of Kansas City and American Traffic Solutions, Inc., WD75363 (2013). Red-Light Camera Ordinance Voided            Kansas City’s municipal government had been planning to amend its ordinance after the Ellisville ruling, but now those plans are on hold.  For the time being, Kansas City will not issue any “red-light camera” tickets, pending a clarification of the applicable law.  The City hopes the Supreme Court of Missouri will clear up the confusion.  Interestingly, however, Kansas City is still taking pictures of vehicles that run red lights in the hope their ordinance will ultimately be reinstated, after which they may try to go back and issue tickets to individuals who ran a red light.  If the Kansas City ordinance is found to be valid as written, then perhaps they can legitimately issue tickets later (a ticket is essentially a criminal “charge”, for which there are applicable statutes of limitations by which such a charge must be issued, and do not require them to necessarily be issued at the exact time of the offense). However, we believe that if the ordinance is held to be invalid (as decided under the Western District’s appellate ruling) but is subsequently “corrected” to comply with whatever guidance the Missouri Supreme Court may offer, drivers could not be ticketed for any violations occurring in the interim.  

            The Kansas City case is more interesting because of an issue not present in the Ellisville case – the plaintiffs in the Damon case claimed that American Traffic Solutions (“ATS”) had actually received a legal opinion, in advance, that the ticketing plan was “illegal” under Missouri law.  Consequently, the appeals court left standing a request for reimbursement of fines that had already been paid (plus a “convenience fee” charged by ATS) by prior-ticketed motorists (or, at least, the vehicles’ owners).  The claim is the City and ATS were unjustly enriched by participating in a scheme they had reason to believe was illegal.  This fits nicely with other claims by the plaintiffs that the City had adopted the red light camera ordinance only to raise money and that red-light cameras are proven to cause, not prevent, accidents.  It is also interesting to note that the law firm which had earlier opined that the plan was “illegal” continued to represent ATS throughout the ensuing litigation.

            We are aware of only one situation in the country where drivers who had paid red-light camera tickets actually received refunds.  The City of Minneapolis, Minnesota adopted a red-light camera ordinance and collected fines for about two years before the ordinance was found to be invalid by the Minnesota Supreme Court in State v. Kuhlman, 729 NW2d 577 (Minn. 2007).  A class action lawsuit was pursued in federal court for refunds, and a settlement was reached that ended up costing Minneapolis approximately $2.6 million paid to more than 14,000 drivers.  See, Shapira, et al. v. The City of Minneapolis, Case No. 06-CV-02190- MJD-SRN, United States District Court, District of Minnesota.  

            It remains to be seen how red-light camera ordinances and applications will be evaluated by not only the Missouri Supreme Court but the judiciary in other states. We think that red-light cameras are probably here to stay, whether for security, surveillance, the claim of “safety” or just to generate local revenue…but not without a fight in most instances.

#redlighttickets  #trafficviolations   #redlightcamera    #Americantrafficsolutions

Nothing posted on Evidentiary Matters is to be considered legal advice or advertising.   
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.

STOP! Red Light Confusion

Red light camerasRecently, in Edwards, et al. v. City of Ellisville and American Traffic Solutions, Inc., ED99389 (2013), the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District handed down a ruling invalidating the “red light camera” ordinance of the municipality of Ellisville, Missouri.  Curiously, the same Court upheld a red light camera ordinance in another St. Louis area municipality, Creve Coeur, in 2011.  In their opinion in the Edwards case, the court held that Ellisville’s ordinance violates state law, Section 304.281 RSMo., the statute governing traffic signal violations by drivers and pedestrians. Since that statute does not mention vehicle owners whatsoever, and Ellisville’s ordinance allows tickets to be issued to the owner of the car photographed by the cameras, instead of the driver of the car, the appellate court found that the ordinance was in conflict with state law.  The court also held that the Ellisville ordinance violated other state laws (Sections 302.225 and 302.302 RSMo.) as well, because running a red light is a “moving” violation under state law that requires the conviction to be reported to the Department of Revenue and points be assessed against a person’s license; the Ellisville ordinance classified violations of the ordinance as “non-moving infractions” for which no report would be made to the Department, and no points assessed.  This particular finding in Edwards differed from the holding in the Creve Coeur case; therefore, the Creve Coeur case was overruled and is no longer good law.  The court’s opinion in the Ellisville case made it clear that there would need to be a change in Missouri state law or a revision of relevant municipal red light camera ordinances to eliminate any conflict between an ordinance and state law.

The Edwards ruling could effectively invalidate numerous similar red light camera ordinances throughout Missouri, although it remains to be seen if the Western or Southern appellate districts would hold similarly, or if the Missouri Supreme Court will view the issue in the same manner as the appellate court did in Edwards and affirm that ruling.

It should be noted that the City of St. Louis claims their red light camera ordinance is valid as sufficiently dissimilar from the Ellisville ordinance because the St. Louis City ordinance allows vehicle owners to refute that they were actually driving at the time of the violation.  In addition, St. Louis City does not specifically attempt to classify these violations as “non-moving” violations, but leaves it up to the State of Missouri (which, presumably, will classify them as “moving” violations and assess points). 

The company that operates the Ellisville red light cameras plans to appeal the Edwards ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.  Of course, the Ellisville ruling does not hold that red light cameras are per se unconstitutional, but simply that Ellisville’s particular red light camera ordinance, as written, is invalid.  Therefore, while this ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals seemingly limits the effectiveness of red light cameras as a traffic violation deterrent, in reality, Ellisville and municipalities with similar ordinances can still amend their local red light camera laws to conform to the specific points highlighted by the appellate court. That is exactly what the City of St. Peters did as an immediate proactive response to Edwards, amending their local ordinance to start classifying red light camera convictions in their town as moving violations.

At least one local attorney went on the airwaves after the Edwards ruling to suggest that anyone receiving a “red light camera” ticket simply refuse to pay it. While that may not be bad advice in Ellisville itself pending revision of their ordinance, as a general proposition we think it may be misleading, and is likely to cause much aggravation, wasted time and money for people who receive a red light camera ticket elsewhere. We suggest that anyone who receives a red light camera ticket check the ordinance language of the particular municipality issuing the ticket, and/or seek counsel before presuming that red light camera tickets are simply invalid generally.

#redlighttickets  #trafficviolations    #Americantrafficsolutions    #redlightcamera

Nothing posted on Evidentiary Matters is to be considered legal advice or advertising.   
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.