Car accident can lead to Vermont traffic ticket even when no witnesses are present

The roads are getting slippery in Vermont as the State braces for the first snowstorm of the winter season.  As a result, motorists driving along the many mountainous Vermont roads will be faced with less than ideal conditions that can increase the risk of an accident taking place.  For those electing to travel the roads during a storm, not only is there a risk of being involved in an accident, but, if a Vermont law enforcement officer sees fit, a motorist could face a hefty ticket as well.

What is most curious about many of these tickets is that law enforcement often will base the ticket on the mere fact that an accident took place, with no other witnesses providing testimony of what factors played a role.  These “driving too fast for conditions” tickets carry with them a substantial fine as well as several points on one’s license.

The law which officers rely on can be found in 23 VSA 1081(a) which states:

No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions, having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event speed shall be controlled as necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other object on or adjacent to the highway.

This law is extremely broad and leaves the interpretation of it up to the officer who comes upon the accident.  As a result, their impression can be attacked at a traffic ticket hearing especially what evidence they are relying on in making the determination that a violation occurred.

As in many cases along Vermont roads, minor accidents occur even when a motorist is taking all necessary precautions.  If there is not enough evidence to support the Vermont traffic ticket, then you have a good chance at convincing a Vermont Judicial Bureau Judge that the ticket holds no merit and should be dismissed.

Cell phone law nets over 100 Vermont traffic tickets so far

Although the cell phone ban while driving is still relatively new in Vermont, that hasn’t stopped law enforcement officers from issuing over 100 tickets since the law’s inception on October 1, 2014.  It was recently reported by NECN that in just the first 30 days over 130 stops were made by Vermont law enforcement throughout the State.  Although a majority of those stopped in October were issued warnings, there were still over 30 tickets that were issued.

This means that in the first two weeks of November alone, over 70 tickets have been issued as to the ban, which carry with it a $162 fine.  The law currently does not provide for points to be issued on an individual’s driver’s license.

For those still unfamiliar with the law, it can be summed up with a few simple words:  If your electronic handheld device is not hands-free then it is illegal in the State of Vermont to use it while driving a motor vehicle.

Although the fine alone may not scare many individuals into keeping off their phones while driving, if the device played a role in an accident, the penalties can be far worse.

Numerous cases have been brought into criminal court when an individual has been injured as a result of a driver being distracted by an electronic device while driving.  Depending on the severity of the injury, the potential penalty for such an offense can travel up as high as 15 years behind bars.

With the new law, which allows Vermont officers to pull over motorists merely because they see a driver with a device in their hand, the risk far outweighs the reward.

Vermont police department will release breath test results after DUI stop

One of the first legal backlashes of being arrested for DUI in Vermont is the dreaded press release police release the day after an arrest is made.  This release normally discloses the name of the individual arrested for a Vermont DUI, where the arrest occurred and a small description of the details of the arrest.  However, in many instances, the crucial evidence that supports the DUI charge, such as an individual’s performance on the field sobriety tests and their breath test results is not disclosed in the initial release.  For several police departments, this policy is about to change.

The South Burlington Police Department recently announced that they would begin disclosing the results of breath tests for those arrested for DUI. According to a report by WPTZ.com, police departments had been withholding this information due to concerns that the accused would not get a fair trial if potential jurors were able to read about the defendant’s breath test results prior to their admissibility being determined by a Vermont district court.

In a change of course, departments are now saying that transparency in these arrests is more important then keeping the results confidential.  This push was given substantial weight when governor Peter Shumlin stated that he was in favor of full disclosure.

The Vermont State Police and Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles will also be disclosing breath test results.  Although transparency in government is important, the constitutional right of an individual accused of drunk driving in Vermont trumps the press and the public’s need to know.  Numerous issues have arisen in recent years as to the breath test’s reliability.  As a result, this practice may potentially have an adverse effect on those who were under the legal limit at the time of operation, certainly not helpful in ensuring that every person is given their day in court to present a defense.

Obstruction of Justice investigation commences after Vermont DUI arrest

Can someone impede a police officer’s investigation into a DUI by attempting to place themselves in the middle of an active DUI investigation?  This question is currently being analyzed by the Vermont State Police as they look into the actions of the chairwoman of a local Vermont town, who is alleged to have made several calls to the Sheriff’s Department after she learned that her friend had been arrested for DUI.

According the the Brattleboro Reformer, the incident in question arose late one evening when a Sheriff’s Deputy attempted to stop a motorist in the town of Vernon, Vermont.  The Sheriff alleged that the vehicle did not stop right away and instead pulled into a residence.  The motorist is alleged to have gotten out of her vehicle and began to walk towards the house.  The deputy then pulled his firearm and ordered the woman to stop.

After being taken into custody the station commander stated in his report that he received numerous phone calls from the chairwoman, using foul language to describe the deputy’s actions.

It is at this point, where the chairwoman may have gone too far, using her position of authority in an attempt to try and influence an investigation.

Obstruction of Justice is defined in the Vermont Statutes as:

“Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, intimidates or impedes any witness, grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court or agency, in a contested case, of the state of Vermont, or causes bodily injury to such person or intentionally damages the property of such person on account of such person’s attendance at, deliberation at, or performance of his or her official duties in connection with a matter already heard, presently being heard or to be heard before any court or agency, in a contested case, of the state of Vermont, or corruptly or by threats or force or by any threatening letter or communication, obstructs or impedes, or endeavors to obstruct or impede the due administration of justice”  13 VSA 3015.

The key to this investigation will be whether the contact made by the chairwoman was meant to “intimidate”the officer in the administration of his duties.  Although it is not clear as to when a final report will be issued, the Vermont DUI, which stemmed this whole incident seems completely lost in what actions followed it, raising many questions as to the role town government officials should play in incidents that fall outside their scope of authority.