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Traffic cameras seek green light from Supreme Court

Allyssa D. Dudley//December 3, 2014

Traffic cameras seek green light from Supreme Court

Allyssa D. Dudley//December 3, 2014


When it comes to traffic violations, we may be entering an age where the accused are guilty until proven innocent, attorneys argued in three cases before the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The court heard arguments on both speed enforcement and red light cameras. Sandra Thurmond and Sarah Tupper were accused of violating a St. Louis city ordinance by running a red light. The women received by mail notice of the violation, which included a probable cause statement and procedures for disputing the violation.

Thurmond and Tupper’s attorney, W. Bevis Schock of St. Louis, argued that this violated due process and constitutional rights afforded to citizens by shifting the burden of proof from the prosecutors to the accused.

“They hand you an affidavit and say prove you didn’t do it. That’s crazy,” Schock told the court.

Judge Laura Denvir Stith questioned Schock if his rationale would invalidate prior court decisions regarding parking violations, but Schock said that, based on public safety issues, there was a difference between a parking violation and a moving violation.

Winston Calvert, attorney for the city of St. Louis, tried to keep the argument focused on whether the proceedings over ordinance violations were civil or quasi-criminal, which would shift evidentiary burdens. A quasi-criminal proceeding is a civil proceeding that has relaxed protections associated with criminal proceedings, Calvert explained to the court.

All three cases raised questions about the liability of a vehicle’s owner in the event a moving violation is caught by an automated traffic system. Charles W. Brennan — a radio host on KMOX in St. Louis — received a ticket when his vehicle was caught traveling 11 miles over the speed limit, but the city of Moline Acres was unable to prove he was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the violation.

Lower courts employed the presumption that the owner of the vehicle has consented to its use, argued Carl J. Lumley of Curtis, Heinz, Garrett & O’Keefe in St. Louis, attorney for the city.

Judge Richard Teitelman pointed out that in other instances, such as a home in disrepair, the owner is held liable for any infractions.

“If you don’t keep your yard in order, the grass is too tall or something, then the owner of the house is charged with that crime … yet they may not be the person responsible. It may have been the daughter that was supposed to mow the lawn,” Teitelman said.

However, real property cases rely on the owner’s being given notice of charges, which is to encourage the landlord to be careful in choosing tenants, Brennan’s St. Louis attorney Hugh A. Eastwood explained.

“The legislature made clear in the speeding statutes that this is criminal conduct, and there is a rational nexus between punishing the speeder for criminal conduct and public safety goals,” Eastwood said.

Stith questioned whether or not lack of consent could be used as an affirmative defense. The city ordinance holds the owner liable, which means the owner consented to the vehicle’s use.

The city has to prove the owner gave permission for the vehicle to be used, which is consistent with prior parking cases heard by the court, and with criminal code, which places the burden of proof of consent wholly on the prosecution, Eastwood said.

In the third case, Schock said that the city of St. Peters had not complied with the state statute when it comes to reporting moving violations. He argued on behalf of his client,Bonnie A. Roeder, who was accused of running a red light, that the fact that the city ordinance does not comply with state statute ultimately voids the ordinance.

W. Scott Williams of Hazelwood & Weber in St. Charles, an attorney for the city of St. Peters, argued that the city was enforcing its ordinances within the bounds of state statute, which does not require red light camera violations to be reported.

The statutes of the state, charge codes, and city ordinances “should be construed harmoniously,” Williams said.

The cases are Tupper et al. v. City of St. Louis et al., SC94212; City of Moline Acres v. Brennan, SC94085; and City of St. Peters v. Roeder, SC94379.

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