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

In this five-part research paper, Professors from Saint Louis University’s School of Law examine the “economic impact of discriminatory municipal law enforcement” in St. Louis County, Missouri. They focus on a wide variety of topics, including “police and municipal court practice in St. Louis County with an emphasis on traffic offenses,” conflicts of interest that arise when law enforcement police for revenue versus public safety, and the municipal authority over tax increases and tax limitations regarding fines and fees. The paper concludes with an analysis of Missouri’s municipal justice system through the lens of the U.S. Constitution.

You can read the full text here, but it is behind a paywall.

Key Findings
  • In St. Louis County, citations are issued during traffic stops in non-affluent municipalities far more frequently than in affluent municipalities.
  • With the decline of property tax values in many St. Louis County suburbs over the past few decades, the assessment of fines, fees, and other court costs to “the economically stressed, low income, local community predominantly composed of people of color” helped to balance municipal budgets.
  • Because Missouri’s state constitution requires tax and fee increases to be approved directly by voters, and because recent increases in fines and fees are tied to revenue and not public safety (which makes them taxes), St. Louis’ municipal court practices violate the state constitution.
Henry Ordower, Onésimo Sandoval, Kenneth Warren
Howard Law Journal, Vol. 61, No. 113 (2017)