The bottom line expense of a Vermont DUI

Many who have been arrested for a DUI-First Offense in Vermont have never been in trouble with the law before.  As a result, many motorist facing such a prosecution will look online to find out what their potential penalty may be.  The result for those not well versed in the Vermont law can be shocking…2 years in jail, $1,000 fine or both.

Although the maximum penalty would be enough to scare anyone, there is a bottom line cost that most individuals can expect to pay when facing a DUI-First Offense.

License Suspension:  If convicted of a DUI, there is an automatic 90 day license suspension if you took the breath test or a 6 month suspension if you refused.  However, the suspension itself only tells one part of the story.

SR-22 Insurance:  If your license is suspended for a DUI-First Offense many insurance carriers will refuse to insure your vehicle.  Vermont requires an SR-22 form to be filled out to show that a motors is covered by sufficient insurance before they agree to reinstate your license.  The cost to have such insurance can be 3-5 times more than if you had a clean driving record.  Over the course of the three year period, that could amount to $5,000 or more added to your premium.

Fine:  Beyond the conviction, expect to pay a hefty fine if you choose to plead to a DUI charge.  Customarily, the fine will depend on your blood-alcohol-level, your conduct during the pendency of the case and your criminal record.  Although the fine may vary and can be negotiated to a certain degree, expect to pay at least a $600 fine as part of your DUI conviction.

Court Costs:  Don’t expect to get away from a DUI with just paying the suggested fine, as the State of Vermont will also tack on Court Costs, which can equal as much as 50% of the total fine.  As a result, a $600 fine will be increased by approximately $300 in court costs.

CRASH:  Any person convicted of a DUI in Vermont must complete CRASH to have their license reinstated.  There are two ways to complete CRASH, either through the weekend Course at the Clara Martin Center in White River Jct., or the weekly course at one of several locations across the State.  The cost of CRASH varies some, but expect to pay at least $450 for the course.

Counseling:  As a part of CRASH for this who are identified as higher risk, an individual convicted of a DUI must enroll in least 6 counseling sessions before they receive their certificate of completion from CRASH.  Counselors can be found through the CRASH administrator and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 per one hour session.  Total cost:  $480.

License Reinstatement Fee:  You have completed all the steps and now are ready to receive your license back…not so fast, there is one more fee you have to pay to the Vermont DMV for them to reinstate your license.  Cost:  $73

TOTAL COST FOR A DUI-FIRST OFFENSE CONVICTION:  

APPROX $6,903 

The scenarios played out above are not a guaranteed resolution.  Each case is fact specific and may result in more or less severe consequences deepening on the potential defenses that are available and the conduct of the accused.  

Frisbee golf is not a reason to let a police officer search your vehicle

Unless a motorist gives a police officer consent to search their motor vehicle, the officer must first have probable cause to apply for and receive a warrant from a Vermont judge prior to entering a vehicle.

Vermont law enforcement officers have been trained in all sorts of techniques to gain consent from motorists.  In many cases, officers will use the, “give consent or I will have your vehicle towed” tactic, which can scare a motorist into thinking they truly have no other choice but to allow a search.

However, a recent report by CNET showed that an Iowa officer may have tried to go a little too far off the cuff  when he tried to gather consent from a motorist to search his vehicle for marijuana because the driver played frisbee golf.

The entire interaction was recorded, where the officer attempted several times to get the driver to consent to a search because in his opinion, all frisbee golfers apparently smoke weed.

The motorist was not buying into the officer’s assumptions however and, after several attempts to gain access to the vehicle, the officer let the motorist go with a warning for failing to turn on his headlights.

This tactic has raised some serious concerns as to just what strategies officers are using to gain access to people’s vehicles.  If frisbee golf is such a tactic, I don’t want to know what a Grateful Dead CD will bring.

Mitigate your risk after a Vermont traffic stop

In traveling to Vermont traffic courts across the State of Vermont, I have gotten to meet a lot of very good hearted, professional police officers.  I have also gotten to meet a few, how shall we say it…sour ones.  In most of these meetings I, as a Vermont traffic ticket attorney, have gotten to sit down with the officer and discuss whether we can come to a negotiated settlement prior to litigating the traffic ticket before a Vermont assistant judge.  I have found that a police officer is much more inclined to offer a favorable deal if a motorist dinot perform one of the following maneuvers when the officer made first contact with them.

1)  Show the officer a business card of law enforcement you know:  This “networking” to get out of a ticket has never worked as far as I know.  In fact, the officers that I talk to have told me that it is an insult to their professionalism when someone thinks that just because their cousin is a State Trooper in another state, that this gives them a free pass to speed or break other traffic laws in Vermont.

2) Argue the merits of the stop on the roadside:  If an officer has pulled you over, they have done so because they believe they have the evidence necessary to charge you with a traffic violation.  Putting your case on trial to the officer right after he has pulled you over will not win you points with the officer and could lead to him giving you no break on the fine and points, when they write up the ticket.

3)  Say you have an emergency when you really don’t:  Officers are understanding of emergencies.  They will even at times escort you to the hospital.  However, if you say that you need to get somewhere fast because its an emergency and the cop calls you out on it by offering an escort to the alleged place of emergency and finds out you were lying, this could be a big problem when you receive your traffic infraction.

Vermont police officers will customarily write notes on their copy of the ticket they issued you if a motorist gives them reason to remember you at a traffic ticket hearing.  These notes will jog the officer’s memory as to the encounter they had which will greatly influence their decision on whether or not they are willing to cut you a deal.  Don’t give the officer reason to remember you, the less they remember about the stop, the better chance you have at prevailing at or before trial.

Windshield obstruction law challenged in Vermont Supreme Court

Is a dangling air freshener from the rear view mirror illegal?  For 40 years in the State of Vermont a law has banned any such “obstructions”, a law that has opened the door for numerous traffic tickets and investigations by Vermont police officers.

The law as it stands right now states as follows:

“No person shall paste, stick, or paint advertising matter or other things on or over any transparent part of a motor vehicle windshield, vent windows, or side windows located immediately to the left and right of the operator, nor hang any object, other than a rear view mirror, in back of the windshield”.

However, there are numerous exceptions to the law that allow for stickers such as Vermont registration tags and other decals to be displayed on the windshield.

The argument before the Supreme Court is that an officer should not be allowed to pull over a motorist unless the item is actually obstructing the view of the driver, an objective viewpoint that could make it difficult for police to ticket any motorist for the infraction unless they had pulled the motorist over for a separate reason.

There is currently no timeline for when a decision will be made by the Supreme Court, but the discussion and opinion will certainly give some clarification and potential further grounds to bring forth a valid Vermont traffic ticket defense or suppression issue for a criminal charge that arose merely because of a violation of this outdated law.

ACLU challenges Vermont traffic stop

A motorist was pulled over, detained for over an hour and then had his car towed for what?…a minor Vermont traffic ticket.

According to a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU, a young man was pulled over after a Vermont State Trooper alleged that snow was partially covering his registration tag.

After the officer tried repeatedly to gain consent from the motorist to search the vehicle, which according to the suit, took over an hour, the officer had the vehicle towed and told the motorist that he would have to walk home, some 8 miles from his current location.

Eventually, the police were able to gain a warrant to search the vehicle and found only a small amount of marijuana, a civil offense that submits the offender to a small fine.

The Troopers involved in the arrest are now going to be forced to answer some tough questions as to their conduct, which may shed some further light on tactics used by law enforcement that directly contradict their sworn duty to protect and serve the public.

Vermont traffic ticket defenses that don’t work

Everyone has heard from arm chair lawyers of potential defenses to traffic tickets beyond the actual facts of the traffic stop.  However, for those who have litigated in Vermont traffic courts, the “defenses” suggested by those outside the litigation realm will often hold little or no weight in front of a traffic court judge.  Before going in to raise these defenses, please take a moment to see if they fall into one of the below categories:

Speeding ticket “defenses”

“I was traveling with the flow of traffic”

No matter if your a single vehicle driving on a lonely Vermont country road, or one of several vehicles in a pack traveling down Interstate 91, speeding is speeding, no matter how many or how few motorists are doing it together.  Making an argument in front of a judge that you were singled out of a group of speeders does not mitigate or excuse the conduct and, in many cases, will hurt your credibility in front of the judge, not a good way to start your traffic ticket trial.

The police officer was hiding on a private road”

Once again, pointing the finger at something other than the violation will not assist you in your hearing.  Although officer’s may technically be parked on a private road, local right-of-ways and town ordinances often give officers the right to do so.  As for the hiding aspect, it is merely part of their training, they are out there to catch speeders, not to give them fair warning of their presence.

“The officer spelled my name wrong on the ticket”

Unless the officer misidentified you completely (John Smith instead of George Thompson), a minor misspelling in your name will not get you off the hook for a Vermont traffic violation.

The officer didn’t issue me my Miranda rights when he pulled me over”

They don’t need to.  Unless an officer takes you into custody (handcuffs you and puts you in their cruiser), the questions they ask on the roadside are not a custodial interrogation that trigger Miranda protections.  However, keep in mind, that you hold a right not to answer questions that may incriminate you, such as “do you know why I pulled you over”.  However, if you answer these questions, those answers can be admitted at trial.

Keep in mind, that there are numerous defenses to a traffic ticket that do in fact work at trial.  Picking the right defense can make all the difference between prevailing and losing, but choosing random defenses not supported by Vermont law, will muddle the issues and will hurt your chances of reaching a positive outcome.

Vermont cell phone ban nets Vermont law enforcement its first arrest

Arrest number one is in the books.

Two days after the implementation of the new hand held device ban on drivers, Vermont police arrested an individual on drug possession charge after a police officer alleged to have seen the man talking on his cellphone.

The Burlington Free Press reports that this arrest was the first in Vermont that was triggered by the new law.  The man not only faces a fine for his cell phone traffic ticket, but is also facing felony marijuana charges after police claim to have located over two ounces of the drug in his vehicle.

The officer was reportedly tipped off of the drug’s presence after he approached the vehicle and have smelled marijuana in the vehicle.  When the operator refused to consent to a search, the police towed the vehicle and searched it after a warrant was approved by a local judge.

This law will likely be an expansive battle field for prosecutors and defense attorneys in the coming years.  Allowing an officer to pull someone over merely because they claim to see someone using their phone, will likely cause numerous challenges to the circumstances of the officer’s visual contact with the motorist.  Although the facts will vary widely in each case, after enough cases have been ruled on, a precedent for the validity of this law will maneuver its way through the Vermont judicial system.

Vermont law bans handheld devices while driving

Hands off or pay up! Photo by Jeramey Jannene

Hands off or pay up!
Photo by Jeramey Jannene

Effective October 1, 2014 any motorist driving in the State of Vermont who is caught with a handheld device in their hands while driving can be pulled over by a Vermont law enforcement officer and be subject to a fine of between $100-$250 for the first violation and $250-$500 for a subsequent violation within two years.

There is no issuance of points for a violation of this law.

This law not only subjects motorists to fines, but also gives grounds for a Vermont police officer to initiate a stop based solely on their witnessing a motorist with a handheld device in their hands.  This “reasonable and articulable suspicion” required for a traffic stop as defined in the United Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio can subject motorists to a wide range of other potential charges, if a police officer finds sufficient evidence to support an expansion of the stop, a more extensive investigation including a potential search of the vehicle can arise, all as a result of using you handheld device while driving.

The bottom line, Vermont police now have another arrow in their quiver to stop motorists and charge them with traffic violations or crimes.  So when you cross  over the Vermont boarder, keep your hands off that mobile device, that text message or phone call is not worth the penalty.

Vermont courts where your DUI or traffic ticket will be prosecuted

Vermont Traffic Court prosecution is governed by the Vermont Judicial Bureau, a centralized office located in White River Jct., Vermont.

The Judicial Bureau’s duties primarily consist of coordinating the county traffic courts, through their scheduling of one of seven assistant judges to preside over traffic court hearings in the 14 Vermont counties.

Vermont police officers prosecute all of the traffic tickets they personally issue to motorists.

Vermont DUI citations are handled by the Vermont Superior Court Criminal Division where a county prosecutor will handle the case.

Both DUI citations and Traffic Tickets are defended by Evan Chadwick, Esq. at Superior courts located at the following addresses.

Windham County: 30 Putney Road, Brattleboro, Vermont.

Distance from Massachusetts Boarder: 24 miles

Distance from New York Boarder: 51 miles

Distance from Connecticut Boarder: 61 miles

Bennington County : 200 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Bennington, VT

Distance from Massachusetts Boarder: 32 miles

Distance from New York Boarder: 18 miles

Orange County: 5 Court Street, Chelsea, VT

Distance from Massachusetts Boarder: 111 miles

Distance from Connecticut Boarder: 163 miles

Distance from New York Boarder:  104 miles

WIndsor County: 82 Railroad Row, White River Juncton, VT

Distance from Massachusetts Boarder: 82 miles

Distance from Connecticut Boarder: 134 miles

Distance from New York Boarder: 75 miles

Rutland County: 9 Merchants Row, Rutland, VT

Distance from Massachusetts Boarder: 92 miles

Distance from Connecticut Boarder: 144 miles

Distance from New York Boarder: 32 miles

Washington County: 255 North Main Street, Barre, VT

Distance from Massachusetts Boarder: 92 miles

Distance from Connecticut Boarder: 144 miles

Distance from New York Boarder: 59 miles