Are Red Light Cameras Legal? - The Grey Area Legality of Red Light Cameras and Automatic Fines

The legality of red light cameras and the automatic fines they generate has once again been the subject of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling. The most recent setback came courtesy of the red light ordinance in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters, Missouri. The court's issue in St. Peters was not about the camera use itself, but about how it conflicted with state laws.

In Missouri, a red light citation is viewed as a moving violation and all moving violations are subject to points penalties under the law. The St. Peters ordinance only required the violator to pay a fine; they did not lose any points off their license. It was this technicality that conflicted with state law and the subsequent reason why the court found the law to be void.

That Supreme Court ruling follows two other rulings where the use of red light cameras was found to also be void.

In 2013, Kansas City also suspended their red light program because of the way they handled penalties for violations. The court took issue with the city because they felt the violations were being treated like a parking ticket instead of the moving violation they were intended to be. The Kansas City program has not been restarted since that finding by the court. 

Another Supreme Court ruling in St. Louis found the use of red light cameras to be illegal because they shifted the burden of proof to the defendant instead of upon the city. In other parts of the U.S., the rulings have not been so one sided. In November of 2014, an Illinois Supreme court dismissed a case challenging the legality of red light camera use in Chicago. Also in 2014, a Florida Appellate court forced the shutdown of red light cameras in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The controversial use of red light cameras across the nation looks to be in the spotlight for years to come the way things are currently trending.