JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's third-largest city suspended the use of red-light traffic cameras Tuesday after the state Supreme Court struck down its process for handling the tickets.
In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the high court said that violations of municipal ordinances, such as running a red light, cannot be handled through administrative hearings but instead must be heard in a court.
The decision invalidated the $100 fine levied by the city of Springfield on Adolph Belt Jr., a 30-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol who challenged his ticket. But the decision immediately had a much broader affect.
Within hours of the ruling, Springfield quit using its red-light cameras, said city spokeswoman Louise Whall. City leaders have not decided whether to ask the Supreme Court for a rehearing or whether to purchase different camera equipment and restart a red-light enforcement program under new procedures, she said.
Since it began using cameras at certain intersections on June 30, 2007, Springfield has issued 9,784 citations for running red lights, Whall said. Its traffic crashes declined significantly last year, she said.
The city sends tickets to the owners of vehicles photographed running a red light based on the license plate of the vehicle. Whall estimated that 200 people had contested their tickets — as Belt did — through an administrative hearing process.
The Supreme Court said state law does not allow Springfield to use an administrative process to enforce violations of municipal ordinances. Instead, the cases must be heard a circuit or municipal court.
"This is a $100 case. But sometimes, it's not the money — it's the principle," Judge Michael Wolff wrote in the court's opinion.
Belt's attorney, Jason Umbarger, said the ruling "looks like a victory for the motorists in the city of Springfield."
Pursuing red-light violations in court carries the potential for tougher penalties but also provides the accused greater legal protections, Umbarger said.
Whall said Tuesday's ruling may also affect Springfield's administrative process for handling other municipal ordinances, including tickets for alcohol violations or dangerous buildings.
About 30 Missouri communities use cameras to catch violations at traffic signals, but no other city relies on an administrative enforcement process like Springfield's, said Scott Charton, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions Inc., which supplies most of the traffic light cameras used in Missouri. Springfield purchased its cameras through a different vendor. Columbia's red-light cameras are supplied by Gatso USA.