A US Department of Justice report released earlier this month called into question the predatory tactics of traffic police and municipal court in Ferguson, Missouri. The high court decided on Monday to clear the bench and put Court of Appeals Judge Roy L. Richter in charge of all the city’s cases in the St. Louis County municipal court.
“Judge Richter will bring a fresh, disinterested perspective to this court’s practices and he is able and willing to implement needed reforms,” Chief Justice Mary R. Russell said in a statement. “Extraordinary action is warranted in Ferguson, but the court also is examining reforms that are needed on a statewide basis.”
The Justice Department report concluded that the Ferguson Police Department conducted unconstitutional traffic stops in which black motorists and passengers were arrested on “failure to comply” charges if they refused to submit to roadside questioning. When the resulting charges and traffic tickets were challenged, the accused rarely found a sympathetic ear, according to the report.
“The Ferguson municipal court handles most charges brought by FPD, and does so not with the primary goal of administering justice or protecting the rights of the accused, but of maximizing revenue,” the report concluded. “The impact that revenue concerns have on court operations undermines the court’s role as a fair and impartial judicial body.”
One woman who received a parking ticket in 2007 was charged $1091 in fines and fees because of the multiple arrest warrants the court issued against her for failing to appeal in court. Often those failures to appear were not the fault of the motorist.
“We have also found evidence that in issuing citations, FPD officers frequently provide people with incorrect information about the date and time of their assigned court session,” the report explained.
The court issued 9007 arrest warrants in 2013, thanks in part to Ferguson’s expansion of the list of offenses that require the accused to appear in person in court to include minor traffic violations. In these cases, the driver must appear even if he is not contesting the charge.
“Requiring an individual to appear at a specific place and time to pay a citation makes it far more likely that the individual will fail to appear or pay the citation on time, quickly resulting, in Ferguson, in an arrest warrant and a suspended license.” the report explained.
Dealing with the charges requires payment of hefty fines. That arrangement will change under the court’s new management. Drivers are far more likely to have a fair hearing before Judge Richter, who in 2013 led a three-judge appellate panel in declaring the use of speed cameras and red light cameras unconstitutional (view decision).
“When the primary and fundamental purpose of an ordinance is revenue-generation, such ordinance cannot stand,” Judge Richter wrote at the time.
A copy of the report is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department (US Justice Department, 3/4/2015)