The Creve Coeur Police Department has announced that they will conduct a sobriety checkpoint at an undisclosed location in the city tonight (8/28) between 10pm and 3am. From my experience living in Creve Coeur for several years, these checkpoints were almost exclusively conducted on Olive within a mile of either side of Highway 270, but Creve Coeur is a rather large municipality and tonight’s checkpoint could be conducted anywhere. So be alert if you’re in the area this evening.
Yesterday the Missouri Supreme Court released its long-awaited opinions regarding red light camera ordinances in our state. The court ruled that the St. Louis red-light camera ordinance violates the constitution because it more or less forces a defendant to actually prove that he was not the one driving the car through a red light. The court also said that St. Peters’ law – which treats these violations as “moving violations” but issues no points to their driver’s record – violates state law and is thus void. A similar ordinance enacted in Moline Acres was also struck down by the court.
So what does this all mean?
What if I received a red light ticket in St. Louis City and paid the fine?
That fine money went into an escrow account while the City waited for the Supreme Court to rule on this. Now that they ruled in favor of drivers, that money should go back to you. According to this article in the Post-Dispatch, the City will issue refunds to all drivers soon, but have not yet worked out the details on how and when these refunds will be issued.
What I received a red light ticket in St. Louis City but haven’t paid my fine yet?
Don’t pay the fine, throw the ticket in the trash.
So are red light cameras a thing of the past in Missouri?
Not exactly. While they’re not in use now, St. Louis and a number of municipalities say that they’re planning on enacting new ordinances that comply with the court’s ruling. For example, new laws would have to place two points on your driver’s record just as if a police officer caught you running a red light. Also, to get around the tricky issue of actually proving who was driving, the companies that run these red light cameras will need to upgrade their technology to provide courts and drivers with clear pictures of who was driving the vehicle, rather than just take a picture of the plates. Buried in this article it says that companies such as American Traffic Solutions already have this type of technology in place in states such as California and Colorado.
So while red-light cameras are not operating in Missouri at this time, they may be back soon.
It’s that time of year again… St. Louis County and Better Family Life, Inc. are bringing back the August Warrant Amnesty Program for another year. If you have an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, you can get a recall voucher for just $10. You can then take this voucher to the court office and, after paying a nominal fee, get placed on an upcoming court night. You can do this at the following locations:
Saturday August 1 – St. Louis Community College (Forest Park Campus) 7am-7pm
Wednesday August 5 – St. Louis Community College (Flo-Valley Campus) 7am-7pm
Saturday August 8 – St. Louis Community College (Meramac Campus) 7am-7pm
So is the court that is stressing you out participating?? The answer is Yes if you have an outstanding warrant in Ballwin, Bella Villa, Bellfontaine Neighbors, Bellerieve Acres, Black Jack, Breckenridge Hills, Brentwood, Bridgeton, Charlack, Chesterfield, Clarkson Valley, Cool Valley, Country Club Hills, Crestwood, Dellwood, Des Peres, Fenton, Ferguson, Florissant, Hazelwood, Jennings, Ladue, Manchester, Maryland Heights, Moline Acres, Normandy, Northwoods, O’ Fallon, Olivette, Overland, Pasadena Hills, Pine Lawn, Riverview, Shrewsbury, St. Ann, St. John, Sunset Hills, Town & Country, U.City, Vinita Park, and Warson Woods.
Governor Nixon signed Senate Bill 5 into law last week. As I discussed in May, this Bill will have huge implications on municipal courts in this state, especially in St. Louis County.
These reforms are long overdue. On St. Louis Public Radio yesterday, Glendale/Kirkwood State Senator Eric Schmitt provides a thorough breakdown of Senate Bill 5. You can listen to this interesting interview here, and you can read the full text of the bill here.
Please take a moment to check out the trailer for the upcoming documentary Wake Up, featuring intern Alex Lindley. Alex came up with the idea to create a documentary about suicide awareness after he and his group of friends lost two close friends to suicide while at Mizzou. The documentary aims to get the conversation of the topic of suicide started, and ending the taboos and stigmas that often prevent those suffering from mental illness to reach out for support.
Nearly 30,000 people have active warrants from the St. Louis City Municipal Court for failure to pay. Yesterday it was announced that all of these people will have their warrants recalled, and they will receive an opportunity to appear in court and explain their current financial situation. If you are one of the nearly 30,000 people who had a failure-to-pay warrant in the City, you should expect to receive a letter that explains the process for obtaining a new court date. If you have moved since the offense that led to your warrant, you will need to contact the Municipal Court to get more information regarding a new date.
It was also announced this week that for all future cases, a missed court payment will no longer lead to an automatic warrant. Instead, defendants will now receive a warning letter ordering them to appear in court or else be subject to an arrest warrant.
It’s rare to see a bill receive any type of bipartisan support in Jefferson City, but that is what happened earlier this month with the passage of Senate Bill 5. This is good news for all citizens of this state, especially those in St. Louis County who have been brutally ripped off for years by greedy municipalities trying to meet their bottom lines. Senate Bill 5 was signed by Governor Nixon last week, and while the bill has a lengthy list of reforms, the key points you should know include:
- The amount of traffic-related revenue collected by local governments outside of St. Louis County cannot exceed 20% of the town’s general operating revenue
- The amount of traffic-related revenue collected by local governments inside St. Louis County cannot exceed 12.5% of the town’s general operating revenue
- Fines and court costs for minor traffic offenses cannot exceed $300 per offense
- NOBODY can be sentenced to jail simply because they cannot afford to pay a fine
- Courts cannot charge additional “Failure to Appear” fines to those who do not appear in court on their traffic charges
Score another victory for supporters of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. This year’s term of the U.S. Supreme Court has been kind to supporters of the Fourth Amendment. The Court today held in a 6-3 decision that police may not extend a traffic stop in order to wait for drug-sniffing dogs when there is no probable cause to search the vehicle.
The Court’s majority opinion held “that a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable searches.” As such, once a driver is pulled over for a traffic violation, and the matter is resolved either through the issuing of a citation or otherwise, the traffic stop must cease unless the officer has “probable cause” to believe that a canine search is warranted. As the court says, an officer’s authority to hold a driver and confront him “ends when the tasks tied to the traffic infraction are – or reasonably should have been – completed.”
Of course, “probable cause” can always be created by officers after-the-fact. And the Court said that officers are still allowed to use drug-sniffing dogs during the course of a routine traffic stop. This ruling simply states that they cannot extend the time of a traffic stop merely to call for a dog (assuming no probable cause exists). While that may sound complicated and convoluted, it is in the end another roadblock deterring police officers from violating your Fourth Amendment rights, and another weapon for attorneys to use in situations such as the one encountered by Dennys Rodriguez, the driver in this case.
This is pretty interesting case, and you can read the Court’s full opinion here.
Another major reform to St. Louis County’s many municipal courts was announced last night by the St. Louis County Municipal Court Improvement Committee. No longer will certain fines like speeding, driving without insurance, red light violations, etc. vary by hundreds of dollars depending on where the ticket is issued. Instead, it was announced last night that 80 of our 82 municipal courts have agreed to issue uniform fine and court costs amounts for most ordinance violations.
Under this new standard, fines are $70.50 plus court costs for most routine moving violations (speeding, lane violations, illegal u-turns, etc.), and $50.50 for non-moving violations. Speeding fines range from $6 to $8 per mph over the limit. The municipal courts also agreed to standardized court costs of $24.50. This will make things much more clear for defendants as well as for their attorneys who at least have a baseline from which they can counsel their clients.
Two towns – Brentwood and Wellston – are not yet on board but are expected to join after changes to their municipal judges are finalized. These changes do not have to go into effect until this summer, and towns are free to levy higher fines for certain violations such as school zone violations. But this is yet another positive step towards fixing our embarrassingly corrupt municipal court system.
After the Department of Justice’s Report on Ferguson was released earlier this month, news outlets worldwide broke down the scathing report and often added their own stories of just how terrible this court has treated defendants. We all know that these problems are by no means limited to Ferguson. Go five miles in any direction from Ferguson and you can see the same unconstitutional practices happening on a daily basis. This story on the Huffington Post this morning illustrates some troubling but all-too-common instances of injustice in “cities” like Pasadena Hills, Pine Lawn, and Jennings. It’s a bit of a long read but well worth it. Check it out.