Wrong on Red: The Constitutional Case Against Red-Light Cameras


This Note posits that red-light cameras dangerously reverse the presumption of innocence and deprive cited motorists of the fundamental right to confront their accusers. Cogent analysis of these weighty claims requires a narrowing of the field, both substantively and geographically. Though similar critiques may be mounted against other forms of automated enforcement technology, this Note focuses specifically on the constitutional implications of red-light cameras presently operating in Saint Louis, Missouri. Employing Saint Louis as an exemplar is useful in several ways. Unlike some communities throughout the region and nation, Saint Louis has not adopted other forms of automated traffic enforcement (e.g., photographic speed radar), rendering local law and commentary uniquely riveted on red-light cameras. Moreover, Saint Louis-area municipalities are the most active in Missouri—and among the most active in the nation—in adopting red-light camera ordinances. Though this Note views red-light cameras‘ legality through the lens of Missouri law, the analysis is capable of extrapolation to other states‘ red-light schemas to the extent that they parallel Missouri‘s system. Part I.A reviews the historical origins and jurisprudential development of two due process claims upon which courts might invalidate red-light camera ordinances: the presumption of innocence and the right to confrontation. With this constitutional context in mind, Part I.B–D tracks the history of automated enforcement technology in the United States, including legal challenges to red-light cameras and their predecessors. Part II analyzes the due process implications of red-light cameras and proposes that Missouri courts should extend their own relevant precedents and adopt those of other state courts addressing red-light camera ordinances and related schemas. On due process principles, Missouri courts should refuse to enforce local ordinances authorizing the installation and operation of red-light cameras.


Due process of law -- United States, Electronic surveillance, Presumption of innocence, Right of confrontation, Confrontation (Law), Traffic regulations, Traffic signals, Traffic violations



Joel O. Christensen (Washington University School of Law)



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