Vermont’s move over law provides for a five point penalty if a motorist is found to have failed to”proceed with caution, and, if traveling on a four-lane highway, and safety conditions permit, make a lane change.” A recent operation by the Vermont State Police tested out the frequency of violations of this law when they set up a specialized operation on Route 7 in Bennington.
The operation had two cruisers setup in the breakdown lane, one with its emergency lights activated to simulate a traffic stop. In two hours, police initiated 17 stops for alleged violations. Sgt. Turner of the Vermont State police stated that the area in which the stops were made along route 7 was a three lane highway, which gave cars the ability to move into the passing lane.
It is curious however, as to whether these stops were in fact a violation of the statute, as Route 7 is not a four lane highway. In order to uphold the charge in court, the officer would have to show that the operator was not proceeding with caution when they passed the officer, certainly a subjective standard that is up for individual interpretation.
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.
It is no secret that a holiday weekend brings an increase in traffic driving through the Green Mountain State. This increase is especially felt on the two major highways which cross the State; I-89 and I-91. As a result, Vermont Law Enforcement has made it clear that they will be increasing their presence on the highways in order to detect and deter unsafe driving behavior, with an emphasis on investigating DUIs and speeding violations.
According to the Valley News, there has been an expected dramatic surge in the number of vehicles on the road, including on I-89, which sees traffic counts of about 41,000 near the Vermont/New Hampshire state line on an average day. This surge of traffic resulted in 100 motorists being issued tickets for speed violations and 8 for the use of hand held electronic devices during a joint task force of Vermont and New Hampshire Law Enforcement officers along the Connecticut river valley on Friday.
The interstate’s are customarily Vermont State Police turf. Do not be surprised to see numerous green cruisers in the median along the highways this weekend. Although safe driving is always the best defense to avoiding traffic tickets, in the event you find yourself with blue lights behind you, it is important to remember the following:
- Be polite;
- Be efficient in producing your license and insurance to the officer;
- Do not interrogate the officer; and
- Keep that PBA care in your pocket at all times and make no mention of it.
The biggest question our firm gets when advising clients on the ramifications their Vermont traffic ticket or DUI suspension is whether or not the violation will be transferred from Vermont to their home State. The clear answer to this riddle is that in most cases Vermont will report the violation to the home state pursuant to the Driver’s License Compact it shares with a vast majority of other States. However, there are some exceptions to this rule that make the laws not as clear cut as they seem.
“The New York State DMV does not record out-of-state convictions of moving traffic violations of New York State non-commercial licensed drivers, except for traffic offenses committed in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada.” This does not absolve a New York driver from taking responsibility for their tickets in other states, as New York will suspend someone’s license for failing to satisfy a ticket issued another jurisdiction. Further, the law leaves out the possibility of the violation itself transferring, which means that although points can not be assessed, the violation itself can still be used against you for insurance purposes. See the article on the Vermont reporting system for more information on how easy it is for companies to pick up on Vermont violations even when no points are assessed.
New Jersey on the other hand holds a blanket policy for the transfer of points. “Members in this compact exchange all violation information. Out-of-state moving violations are worth two points. For example, if you receive a speeding ticket in Florida, you will get two points on your New Jersey driving record for that violation.” The key to this law is the definition of a “moving violation” which is “any violation of vehicle laws that is committed by the driver of a vehicle, while the vehicle is moving“. So, for New Jersey drivers, the key to avoiding the points is to find a Vermont violation that does not fit this criteria, or is too vague for New Jersey to be able to equate to a moving violation.
As is illustrated above, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to out of state drivers analyzing the ramifications of their Vermont traffic ticket or DUI citation. Understanding all of the consequences surrounding the ticket is the major component in figuring out how to best minimize or eliminate them. Although there is no set answer for this, allowing yourself at least the opportunity to change the violation’s face value may save a lot of hassle and expense in the future.
One major question many non-Vermont residents ask when they are facing a traffic ticket in Vermont is whether their insurance carrier will be notified of the violation. There is not a clear answer to this question, as each insurance company’s policy differs with regards to how often they run a motorists DMV record. However, the State of Vermont has made it incredibly easy for any legitimate insurance company, employer or other agency to quickly gain access to a motorist’s Vermont DMV violation record.
The State of Vermont has partnered with Vermont Information Consortium, LLC to set up a portal that, for a $75 annual fee, allows for most any legitimate business, to check an individual’s driving or criminal record. There are no cumbersome forms to fill out, or significant lag time between the request and production of the record. All the company needs is the driver’s name and date of birth and they can quickly review whether that individual has been convicted of violating any traffic laws in the State of Vermont.
Many may believe that if they do not reside in the State of Vermont, that their motor vehicle violation can remain their secret if they just pay the fine and move on. However, with the ever improving technology of State agencies, no motorist is free from the ever watching eye of those companies who may profit off finding a record of a motorists violations.
No attorney has a magic wand to make cases disappear. What they do have is a set of skills and knowledge that help them leverage each case in a fashion that gives their client the best possible chance to avoid significant consequences for their traffic ticket. Does the knowledge and acumen of a Vermont traffic ticket lawyer always lead to a dismissal? I would be a straight out liar to say that it would. However, with the specialized knowledge of the process, the officer and the presiding judge, it is reasonable to conclude that a motorists’ chances of reaching a favorable resolution (dismissal or amendment to a lessor charge) in their Vermont traffic ticket increases the better one knows the rules of the system and the players involved.
So what knowledge is needed to best prepare for a traffic hearing in a Vermont Traffic Court? That heavily depends on the officer and the judge who will serve as the other parties in the matter. Certain officers and judge’s rely on specific documentation a client can provide to assist them in determining what type of offer they are willing to give in a traffic ticket case. A motorist’s driving record from the their home state is a good first step in achieving the necessary documentation. Some States, such as New York, (https://dmv.ny.gov/dmv-records/get-my-own-driving-record-abstract) allow driver’s to quickly secure their DMV record online. Other States ,such as New Jersey, require a more extensive process that can take up to 14 days to complete.
Beyond a DMV driving abstract there are other discoverable materials that the officer may be required to produce if requested by the defense prior to the hearing taking place. Requesting evidence such as the cruiser dash cam, body-camera, radar calibration certificates and other pieces of evidence relevant to the charge to only provide the defense with additional evidence to present their case, but also may allow for further leverage in plea negotiations if the requests are not fulfilled in a timely manner.
There is no way to guarantee a result in a Vermont traffic ticket case. However, by preparing the case properly and presenting the best facts possible both to the officer and, if need be, the judge, a motorist is putting their best case forward and increasing the likelihood of a favorable result in their Vermont traffic ticket case.
In order to determine the viability of a speed trap defense, one must first ask themselves, what is the legal definition of a Vermont speed trap. A speed trap is defined as a speed limit that is unjustified based on specific factors set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association as well as the local Governor’s Highway Safety Program. Based on the evaluation of engineers in these programs, local and state speed limits are set based on specific factors including the type of roadway, the visibility of drivers while on that specific stretch of roadway and population density. It is the intent of these evaluations to reasonably limit the speed limit to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike. If it is found that a Vermont speed limit sign was posted at a speed lower then what a study would conclude, then it could be defined as a “speed trap” and subject to attack at a Vermont traffic hearing.
However, providing that a speed limit is in fact not supported by NHTSA or GHSP is a difficult task. Further, even if an argument can be made that the speed limit does not fit the defined criteria, once would also have to show what criteria that specific stretch of roadway would fit into and what an appropriate speed limit would be. Most traffic judges will limit such an inquiry at trial, given that the purpose of the traffic court is to efficiently resolve cases, not allow for hours of testimony as to why a speed limit was in fact a speed trap.
One of the only real ways to implement change is to demand a study be conducted on the stretch of roadway by a NHTSA or GHSP engineer. If this is conducted, the study itself could be considered a public record and could potentially be admissible in Court. Certain stretches of road, especially on Vermont Route 100 may be subject to additional studies in the future and could be a key piece of evidence if a favorable result is concluded that will show that a speed limit is unreasonably low and thus is considered a speed trap.
As a lawyer practicing extensively in traffic court, I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of law enforcement officers regarding the circumstances of their stop of an individual for a traffic violation. Most of the time these interactions are pleasant and professional. However, from time to time, officers will relay to me important information as to the conduct of the motorist they issued a traffic ticket to, which goes directly toward their disposition in settling the case fairly. Below are a few of the most important things not to do as relayed directly from the officer.
- They begged me to not write them a ticket: Being pulled over by an officer can be a stressful situation. The officer, who has written hundreds if not thousands of these tickets, knows that this interaction may be less then cordial. However, when they are forced to defend themselves because a motorist is pleading with them not to write them a ticket, it puts them in a very difficult situation. Thus, in response to the begging, a law enforcement officer may just put on their professional face and go through the motions of writing the ticket to avoid excessive contact with the motorist. Tip: Take your medicine on the roadside, be polite, accept the ticket and then see what can be done to reduce or dismiss the ticket at a later time.
- Asking to see the radar: An officer is not obligated to show a motorist their radar gun at the roadside during a Vermont speeding ticket stop. This would prolong the stop and put the officer and motorist at further risk. Especially on the highway, but also on winding Vermont roads, officers do not want to be exposed to oncoming traffic for any longer then they have to. Requesting to look at the radar may only put the officer on the defensive, which may hurt your chances of catching a break later on. Tip: If you feel the radar was inaccurate, save the argument for the courtroom, not the roadside.
- Aggressively denying that you were speeding: If an officer is pulling you over, its because they believe that they have reason to do so. If they are pulling you over for speeding, it is nearly a certainty that the officer has a reasonable belief that you were in fact speeding. 99% of Vermont law enforcement officers are good people, performing a tough job to the best of their ability. Thus, if a motorist sits on the roadside and vehemently denies that they were speeding, this will not help their chances, as an officer may take it as a statement against their professionalism without just cause. Instead, to protect your rights, it is better to not answer at all or to simply state that you were not sure how fast you were traveling. Tip: By the time the officer goes back to his cruiser after gathering your identification documents, it is likely that they have already made up their mind as to whether they will be writing you a ticket. Do not expect that you will get a break by making your case on the roadside.
The issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket is only the start of the legal process if a motorist chooses to contest the charge. Thus, it is important to not paint yourself in a corner by performing acts that are contrary to resolving your case. The above three examples are just a few of the acts motorists have committed that have effected their chance are receiving a favorable disposition to their case.
What was once Columbus day weekend, but now is being adopted as Indigenous Person day in Vermont means a lot of things. A long weekend for school children and federal employees, Octoberfest at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor and the start of fall cleanup for homeowners. However, beyond the beers consumed, the leaves raked and the extra morning to sleep in, this weekend officially kicks off the foliage season for Central and Southern Vermont. As a result, police will be out in force this weekend enforcing traffic laws along all the rural and major roads across the state.
As a fair warning, we are providing some places to be especially mindful of when soaking in the Vermont scenery so that you leave our lovely state with only fond memories and not a traffic violation complaint:
- Route 7: At times this road can look like a major highway with its passing lanes and long straight stretches of road. However, the speed limit can vary significantly in therese areas from 55-25 with little warning. Be especially careful in the towns of Mount Tabor, Bennington and Wallingford, as officers are often stationed in certain areas where the speed limit drops significantly;
- Route 30: The trip from Brattleboro to Manchester winds through the southern Vermont foothills and can be a great drive to soak in all the foliage. However, traveling though the villages of Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend and Dummerston can also result in viewing the lights of a Windham Sheriff or State Trooper if you get caught staring too much at the mountains instead of the speedometer.
- Route 100: Ludlow to Killington: It is almost a guarantee that the Windsor Sheriff will have heavy patrols out in this area, especially when traveling through the towns of Plymouth, Tyson Corners and Bridgewater. The speeds can drop from 50mph to 25 mph within a short period of time and officers have been trained to shoot their radar within close proximity to these changes.
- I-89 and I-91 Intersection: Traveling through White River Jct. where the two major highways intersect is a great launching point to many Vermont destinations. Keep in mind that the speed limit drops to 55 mph in this zone, as what seemed like a safe cruising speed of 70mph can turn into a $175 ticket in no time.
Most people are unaware of the law related to illegal expansion following a motor vehicle stop. The police routinely perform motor vehicle stops on motorists in Vermont, which can often result in a Vermont speeding ticket, some other Vermont traffic ticket, or a criminal citation related to DUI. Most often, it is the quality of the driving itself that alerts the police to a particular vehicle. But what happens if the police use a minor traffic violation, and the resulting motor vehicle stop, as a mechanism to investigate the driver or passengers pertaining to issues that are unrelated to a Vermont speeding ticket or Vermont traffic ticket?
The vast majority of motor vehicle stops in Vermont are related to speeding and minor traffic infractions. But once a motor vehicle stop has occurred, the police are only permitted to investigate and inquire about issues directly related to the reason for the stop. They are not allowed to detain you any longer than it takes for them to issue you the ticket.
Does this mean that, following a stop based upon a speeding infraction, an officer would be forced to ignore and walk away from the obvious open alcohol container, plainly visible illegal substances, or a driver who appeared visibly intoxicated? No! The driver or occupants would clearly be in more trouble. However, if the police make no such observations, they are not allowed to use this opportunity to further inquire about other potential criminal or wrongful conduct. This is an illegal expansion.
At Chadwick Law, we not only specialize in defending Vermont speeding tickets and Vermont traffic tickets, we specialize in challenging illegal expansions. As a motorist in Vermont, be aware of your rights. If you are pulled over related to a Vermont speeding ticket or Vermont traffic ticket, politely decline to engage in conversation of issues that are not related to the stop itself and decline any requested searches. The common result of challenging a case due to an officer’s illegal expansion of a stop is that the criminal charge is dismissed. Protect yourself with awareness.