Missouri Supreme Court rules St. Louis area red-light camera laws unconstitutional

Aug 23, 2015 | Criminal Defense

On August 18, 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the red-light camera ordinances in St. Louis, St. Peters, and Moline Acres were unconstitutional. In Tupper v. City of St. Louis (Mo. 2015), the Court stated that the ordinance in St. Louis was unconstitutional because it shifted the burden of proof to the defendant in a criminal proceeding:

“Ordinance 66868 requires that a summons and violation notice be sent to the owner of the motor vehicle without any attempt to determine if the owner was the driver. The ordinance further dictates that the notice shall state:

[I]f at the time and place of the violation, the motor vehicle was being operated by a person other than the Owner, or the vehicle or the license plate captured by the Automated Traffic Control System Record was stolen, the Owner may submit information to that effect by affidavit, on a form provided by the City, prior to the municipal court proceeding, or under oath at the municipal court proceeding. If an Owner furnishes satisfactory evidence pursuant to this paragraph, the City Court or City Counselor’s office may terminate the prosecution of the citation issued to the Owner…. (Emphasis added).

This provision of ordinance 66868 contemplates that the municipal division of the circuit court would terminate proceedings if the owner of the motor vehicle proves that the owner was not the driver. It demonstrates the city’s intent to enact an ordinance creating a rebuttable presumption that shifts the burden of persuasion, requiring the owner to prove to the factfinder — the municipal division in this case — that he or she was not operating the vehicle at the time of the violation. The presumption relieves the prosecution from proving an element of the violation charged beyond a reasonable doubt and is impermissible under Sandstrom, 442 U.S. at 517-18. Therefore, this Court finds ordinance 66868 is unconstitutional because it creates a mandatory rebuttable presumption that shifts the burden of persuasion onto the defendant.” Tupper v. City of St. Louis  (Mo. 2015).

Importantly, Tupper did not hold that red-light camera laws are per se unconstitutional. In other words, municipalities may attempt to introduce modified red-light camera ordinances in the future. However, it is clear that the prosecution may not shift the burden of proof to the defendant by requiring that he or she prove that they were not driving at the time of the violation.  

You can read more on this story at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri Supreme Court strikes down red-light ordinances and St. Louis to refund motorists for $5.6 million in red light camera tickets. Additionally, here are the links to the cases from the Missouri Supreme Court:

Tupper v. City of St. Louis

City of St. Peters v. Roeder

City of Moline Acres v. Brennan

If you have additional questions about traffic violations, call or come visit the criminal defense lawyers at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!

Related Topics

Do I need a lawyer for traffic court?