Out of Ferguson: Misdemeanors, Municipal Courts, Tax Distribution and Constitutional Limitations

Source: Henry Ordower, J. S. Onésimo Sandoval, Kenneth Warren, Saint Louis University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-14, October 18, 2016

From the abstract:
The matter of police and municipal courts as revenue producers became increasingly prominent following Michael Brown’s death from a police shooting. This article considers the use of misdemeanors, especially traffic violations, for the purpose of collecting substantial portions of the annual operating budgets in municipalities in St. Louis County, Missouri. The article argues that the revenue raising function of traffic offenses has displaced their public safety and traffic regulation functions. The change in function from public safety to revenue suggests that the governing laws are no longer valid as exercise of policing power but must be reenacted under the taxing power in order to remain valid. Constitutional tax limitations in Missouri, however, prohibit the increase of existing or enactment of new taxes without an affirmative vote of the electorate. Municipalities have circumvented the constitutional taxing limitations by using laws enacted under policing powers in violation of the constitution. The police and the municipal courts enforcing traffic laws have produced a racially discriminatory and regressive local tax system that violates the tax limitations of the Missouri constitution.