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Judge again rejects red light cameras in St. Louis city

A judge has thrown out the city of St. Louis' ordinance that allows the use of red light cameras.
via Flickr/functoruser
A judge has thrown out the city of St. Louis' ordinance that allows the use of red light cameras.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday with copy of Judge Neill's order.

Updated at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday  with comments from the city.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday with comments from plaintiff's attorney, more information on the ruling.

A St. Louis circuit court judge has ruled that the city's red light camera ordinance is both unconstitutional and violates state law.

Judge Mark Neill issued his final ruling on Friday. In an  initial ruling in May, he said that because the state of Missouri had never given municipalities the authority to enact red light cameras, St. Louis went above and beyond the "traditional police powers granted to municipalities" by approving the cameras, which are at 51 intersections throughout the city. At the time, Neill refused to rule on whether the ordinance violated due process requirements without a full jury trial because there were questions about the information provided to individuals caught by the red light cameras.

On Friday, Neill upheld his earlier decision on the need for enabling legislation. But he also ruled that the red light camera process did, indeed violate constitutional due process, in both civil and criminal courts.

"There isn't anything that the city does wherein it issues a formal warrant with a formal court date and appearance date," explained Russell Watters, the attorney who filed the suit.  "It just simply sends out letters indicating that you were caught in the red light, you need to pay $100. Then, in some subsequent letters, they will tell you that now that you haven't paid, here's a date."

In October, a Missouri appeals court upheld the constitutionality of Creve Coeur's red light statute, which Watters says was worded differently than the city's. Federal courts have also upheld similar statutes.

In a statement, city counselor Patricia Hageman said the ruling would have no impact on the city's operation of its red light cameras.

"We had been waiting for a final judgment from the trial court so that we could appeal, and now we have that," Hageman said. "We believe Missouri law is clear that cities, including St. Louis, have the right to enact red light safety ordinances such as this one, and we look forward to bringing the case to the appellate courts."

Read Judge Neill's final order here.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.