yesterday spoke with St. Louis attorney Russell Watters
In December Watters filed a lawsuit on behalf of three people -- Alexa Smith
and Timothy and Belle Keane
-- who've received red-light camera tickets in St. Louis.
The suit challenges the constitutionality of the the city's red-light camera ordinance and seeks class-action status that would refund everyone who's paid the $100 fine associated with the cameras.
Last July a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of red-light
in Arnold. So, what makes Watters think a would see the St. Louis law differently?
For starters, Watters notes that the two people who've challenged the St. Louis law in court have both won their cases. (Exhibit 1
, Exhibit 2
More importantly, unlike the camera ordinance in Arnold, the St. Louis law is different from most other cities because it's criminal -- not civil -- in nature.
"The way the law is written, there's no doubt it's a criminal law," says Watters. "It allows for up to a $500 fine or 90 days in jail under its violation provisions. In that sense, my clients and I believe the law is unconstitutional in the way it is written and the punishment it metes out."
In the lawsuit, Watters states:
Furthermore, Plaintiffs and Class could not defend themselves by challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance at the municipal court hearing, as the only defenses applicable to the alleged violation were those enumerated within the Ordinance.
Watters is seeking $10 million in damages from the city -- a figure he bases on the 10,000 or so people who've paid the $100 fine from the cameras.
By circumventing RSMo 302.302 (a state law that requires all moving violation to access points), by threatening further legal action, such as imprisonment, for failure to pay the violation, by enacting and enforcing a presumption of guilt pursuant to the Ordinance, and by limiting the defenses available to an accused, Defendant has created a scenario whereby defending oneself against a violation of the Ordinance becomes impractical, financially unsound and legally burdensome when weighed against simply paying the fine.
The suit has yet to have its first hearing in St. Louis Circuit Court. Win or lose, Watters says he expects the case to make its way to the Missouri Supreme Court where justices are reviewing a somewhat similar challenge
regarding Springfield's red-light cameras.
In that lawsuit a Springfield man is arguing that that city's red-light camera ordinance should be criminal and not civil in nature.
Continue on to view Watter's petition in its entirety.