One of the first questions that officers will ask you when they approach your vehicle is whether you know why they pulled you over. This question is set up in a way that many motorists may feel like they must answer. It is this initial statement, in most cases merely meant as a way to be cooperative with the officer, that can be later introduced in court and can be difficult to defend against. Judges have found that these statements are voluntary and admissible, which means that even if all the other facts contradict the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket or criminal citation, this statement alone can be enough to uphold a conviction. A few tips for the roadside questioning are as follows:
- Never reply with a substantive response to the question of why you think you were pulled over: A simple “I am not sure sir” is sufficient. Do not think that by admitting to the offense that you are going to be cut a break because it in fact can make the officer’s position stronger and thus they may be less likely to bend on negotiations if they are confident they can secure a conviction at a trial.
- Make the officer’s job as easy as possible: The less time an officer spends in your presence the better it is for both of you. Have your license and insurance information ready, hand it to the officer as soon as he approaches the vehicle and keep the verbal exchange to an absolute minimum.
- Remember, everything you say is likely being recorded: Most officers have body cams or microphones connected to their uniforms and can catch the entire interaction between the officer and the driver.
Most motorists put in the position of interacting with an officer on the roadside can be an intimidating and daunting task. Of course we want to be polite to the officer, who is just doing their job, but we also do not want to make turn this cooperation into a full blown confession, which can only go to hurt your case in the event this interaction turns into a full blown arrest or the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket.
With an increase in highway fatalities in Vermont this year, law enforcement has been stepping up their investigation and arrests of those that they feel are driving in a criminally negligent manner. Many of these cases, result in a criminal charge for “gross negligent operation. 23 VSA 1091(b)(2) defines gross negligence as ” examining whether the person engaged in conduct which involved a gross deviation from the care that a reasonable person would have exercised in that situation.”
The standard for GNO is rather broad and can encompass a large degree of alleged behavior, such as driving at excessive speeds, texting while driving or operating under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
One of the many keys to defending a GNO charge is to look critically at the operation of the motor vehicle and argue that the conduct does not amount to criminal negligence, which carries with it a significantly heavier burden then proving civil negligence.
To show criminal negligence, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the mental state involved in criminal negligence. Proof of that mental state requires that the failure to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur must be a gross deviation from the standard of a reasonable person. Criminal negligence is conduct which is such a departure from what would be that of an ordinary prudent or careful person in the same circumstance as to be incompatible with a proper regard for human life or an indifference to consequences. Criminal negligence is negligence that is aggravated, culpable or gross. See USlegal.com
Often prosecutors and law enforcement will produce experts reports to support their position that the conduct alleged amounts to gross negligence. If an accident is involved, these reports can include determinations by the expert that the accident was caused by the defendant’s failure to appreciate the risk that their operation of a motor vehicle was creating to himself and others.
Defending a gross negligent charge in Vermont involves a complex and multifaceted approach. Attacking the investigation itself while also looking critically at the facts that are not in dispute is an essential part of this process. Only though this analysis can a true determination be made as to the merits of the state’s case and in turn figuring out the best possible way to ensure that the individual charged with the offense is able to navigate their way to finding the best result.