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Court Rules Arnold's Red-Light Camera Ordinance Unconstitutional

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The Missouri Court of Appeals came down hard yesterday on Arnold's red-light camera ordinance, ruling it violates the state's constitution.

Like the many similar ordinances in Missouri, Arnold's arraignment with the Arizona-based Automated Traffic Solutions, Inc. relies on photos taken of vehicles driving through red lights. The photos, however, don't identity the actual driver, only the vehicle's owner.

Ryan Keane, who argued the case for the appellants with The Simon Law Firm, tells Daily RFT that Arnold's ordinance effectively "shifted the burden of proof" onto the vehicle's owner to prove that he or she wasn't the driver who ran the red light.

The court found this unconstitutional, writing in its decision that: "This would infringe upon a fundamental canon and procedure of this country's and this state's criminal justice system: an accused is deemed innocent until proven guilty."

See also: Missouri Court Rules Ellisville Red Light Cameras Violate State Law

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via Flickr/Ben Schuman

The fact that Arnold's ordinance doesn't assign "points" to a driver's record when they're busted by ATS's camera is also a problem: According to the state, running a red is a moving violation, and by sidestepping the points the ordinance breaks state law.

"This is a great decision for people who believe that red-light-cameras are unlawful revenue generating schemes that don't really have any impact on public safety," Keane says. "

Last month the Court of Appeals ruled that Ellisville's red-light-camera ordinance violated state law for punishing the owner of the car rather than the driver.

There will likely be more challenges to be brought against Arnold's red-light-camera system. In yesterday's ruling, Judge Roy L. Richter pointed out the system does not appear to promote safety.

Ricther wrote:

The Ordinance does not assess points against the driver's license for violation of the Ordinance, thereby authorizing unsafe drivers to remain behind the wheels of vehicles. This is paradoxical to safety. Why would a municipality enact an ordinance permitting a driver to run 100 red lights and, yet, remain on the road, left to endanger other drivers?

Ricther also reels off a number of arguments suggesting the ordinance exists primarily to increase the city's revenue:

The Ordinance authorizes Arnold to prosecute the owner of the vehicle, not the actual driver of the vehicle, thereby decreasing the municipal resources expended by City and increasing their revenue. Why would a municipality enact an ordinance that permitted the prosecution of innocent individuals, while increasing the funds collected?

These questions will be sent back to a lower court for further deliberation.

See also: St. Louis Red-Light Cameras Are Perfectly Legal, Appellate Court Rules

It's hard to find the bottom line here. Granted, the appellate courts' rulings in Arnold and Ellisville and Flourissant (where it also ruled the cameras broke state law by not assigning "points.") are serious legal blows to ATS and its partner cities.

But in June the court ruled in that technically St. Louis' red-light-camera ordinance is constitutional. The presiding judge of that case, Kurt Odenwald, wrote in his conclusion that red-light-camera are not fundamentally different from a radar gun, in that both technologies simply allow for more "aggressive and accurate enforcement of existing traffic regulations."

ATS attorney Ed Dowd wants the Missouri Supreme Court to step in since the Missouri Court of Appeals' ruling are "inconsistent as to how those ordinances should be enforced," and describes the current situation a "landscape of confusion."

Here's Dowd's statement:

While not yet final, today's opinion from the Missouri Court of Appeals in Brunner further conflicts with previous rulings of that Court. While the Court of Appeals has uniformly recognized the authority of local municipalities to enact red-light camera ordinances, its decisions are inconsistent as to how those ordinances should be enforced. Red-light safety camera programs were enacted to change driver behavior. In Missouri, nearly 9 out of 10 drivers who have received a violation have not received a second one.

Read the rest of Dowd's statement and court's full decision after the jump


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