So why was it so important for these municipalities to label red light camera citations as non-moving violations in order to impose a fine? And how will the recent decision in Edwards v. City of Ellisville affect a municipality’s ability to continue their red light ticketing program?
First, as discussed in Edwards, running a red light is a moving violation under Missouri law. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its a duck – no matter what the city wants to call it. Municipal ordinances cannot conflict with Missouri statutory law. And, if it is a moving violation, as defined by Missouri law, then a municipality must report that violation to the Department of Revenue in order for the Department to assess points against the driver’s license. And therein lies the crux: under the red light ticketing system, the registered owner of the vehicle was the one held responsible for the violation. In order to avoid liability, the owner had to provide proof that he/she was not the one who committed the infraction. In other words, the burden was on the owner of the vehicle, not the prosecution.
However, when there is a moving violation, the driver’s rights and privileges under the law are impacted. When a person obtains a driver’s license, that person promises to follow all laws with regard to traveling on State roadways. A good example of this is the implied consent law, whereby all holders of driver’s licenses implicitly give their consent to be tested for intoxication, having promised upon receipt of their driving privileges not to drive while intoxicated on State roadways. (Obviously, some exceptions and conditions apply). Thus, in order for the Department of Revenue to suspend, revoke or take other measures that adversely affect a driver’s privileges – via their license – the driver must be afforded due process protection. Typically that requires the driver being afforded an opportunity to confront his/her accuser – which in cases of moving violations, involves a law enforcement officer who personally observed the violation (reasonable suspicion to believe a law is being broken) and therefore has authority to stop the vehicle, obtain proper identification from the driver, and issue a ticket. The driver thus knows when his/her court date will be and where, and can request the officer personally appear in order to contest the grounds of the ticket. If the driver is found guilty, the conviction is reported to the Department, where points are assessed against the driver’s license, and depending on the amount of points incurred during a 12 month period, the driver’s license and driving privileges may be adversely affected. This is why officers cannot observe a violation, such as speeding, look up the license plate of the vehicle involved, and just mail a ticket to the owner of the registered owner of the vehicle. Moving violations invoke due process because someone’s driving privileges are at stake.
It is unclear what kind of solution Missouri politicians will craft as a solution to this quandary. However, it does seem like an irreconcilable situation for the municipalities who have implemented their camera ticketing programs.