A crisply dressed, dark-haired man awaited his appointed hearing before Judge John J. Jackson in Marion County Associate Circuit Court this past Monday afternoon.
Wearing a black Polo-type shirt inscribed with the name of a noted golf tournament, and carrying a file folder presumably containing documents regarding his own case, Arthur Genasci of Wentzville stood out among the defendants in the courtroom, the majority of whom were dressed in county-issued orange, and restrained with silvery chains.
Patiently awaiting his moment before the judge, Genasci sat in the courtroom galley, listening to and watching testimony and judgment unfold before him.
Once his case was called, he stood, straight and confident, and approached the judge.
Genasci is challenging a traffic ticket in regard to the City of Hannibal’s red light cameras, appealing a guilty verdict issued by Judge Fred Cruse following a city court trial.
James Lemon, Hannibal city attorney, explained the background on the case following Judge Jackson’s ruling granting Genasci’s oral request for a new judge and trial venue.
Lemon said Hannibal’s red light ordinance is “pretty basic.”
Hannibal has red light cameras in operation at four intersections along U.S. 61, one at Pleasant/West Ely, one at Highway MM, one at State Highway 168, and the other at Market Street.
Operated by a vendor, the cameras are set up to photograph drivers who pass through the red lights. The vendor notifies the Hannibal police in the case of a suspected violation.
“People have this crazy idea that it is an automated system,” Lemon said. But that is not the case. “The vendor tracks down the license number, and we see if it matches up to the right person. It is not infallible. It’s possible the system will activate” when no violation has occurred. When the camera activates, “that creates an event,” Lemon said. “The vendor sends an email to the HPD, so an officer can log in and review the evidence. Usually if it’s close, an officer can decide, ‘I’m not going to write a ticket.’ Our officers use their discretion. If they see it is some kind of a circumstance, like a funeral procession, they don’t write a ticket.”
Lemon said that Hannibal’s red light ticketing program is operated in exactly the same manner as a normal traffic signal ordinance, except that photos are used as evidence, rather than an actual officer watching the intersection.
“If someone robbed a liquor store, (police) would have to lay the foundation” for the charge “and bring in the surveillance video as evidence. Shoplifting is another example,” Lemon said. The video is part of the evidence.
“Every ticket is written by an actual officer, if there is a good enough picture” from the red light camera.
Hannibal’s original red light ordinance was drafted about three years ago, upon an opinion issued by a three-judge panel in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District.
“The original decision the Eastern District came up with, was to write a ticket to the owner of the car, and the ticket didn’t have to be a points violation. It was more similar to a non-moving violation, similar to a parking ticket. Just a fine,” Lemon said.
Then about six or seven months ago, “a different panel with the same Court of Appeals, three different judges made a different determination.”
Ultimately, the Missouri Supreme Court will make the final decision, Lemon said.
“It looked to me like the new decision was better law,” Lemon said. “If we are going to have red light camera enforcement, in my opinion we should listen to the second ruling.
“When we write a citation now, we are just writing it under our normal traffic signal ordinance. The video (or photo) is just another piece of evidence. It is not a specialized ordinance. We just write a normal ticket, just like if the officer was standing there. We use the video (or photo) for evidence.”
Lemon said that people found guilty in city court have a right to a “trial de novo,” or a new trial, starting from scratch. “That is what we’re doing now” in the Genasci case. “He has asked for a jury trial and made various other motions,” Lemon said.
Judge David Mobley of Ralls County has been assigned to the case, and he will take up the defendant’s oral request for a new venue, Lemon said.
Trial dates to be considered are in November or December, 2014, and January-February, 2015.