By Robb Spensley
It is very common that drivers operating or waiting in a designated turn-only lane will NOT put on their turn signals, perhaps assuming that their intention to turn is clear enough. However, as established in recent Vermont Supreme Court Decision State v. Cook (google “2017-368 Vermont”), the failure to utilize your turn signal in a designated turn-only lane will now be considered adequate grounds for a police officer to pull someone over and ticket them. The Vermont Supreme Court has not previously decided this precise issue, with past decisions indicating that an actual turn signal may not be necessary when the lane designation clearly allows only one legal maneuver.
Some American States do not require a turn signal in a turn-only lane, but Vermont and many other States do. Police officers in Vermont are allowed by law to perform a traffic stop whenever they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion of a Vermont traffic violation, like speeding, or a crime, such as driving under the influence. The Vermont Supreme Court reached its recent decision in Cook primarily based upon the specific wording of Vermont’s turn-signal statute.
The Vermont Supreme Court also cited safety issues to support the decision in Cook, reasoning for example that other drivers stopped at an intersection may not be able to identify that an opposing or nearby lane is a turn-only lane. One might speculate that snowstorms and low visibility situations may also worsen a driver’s ability to perceive the designated direction of a nearby lane.
I do not expect that this type of traffic stop will become common in Vermont. However, if a Vermont police officer decides to perform a traffic stop based upon a driver’s failure to activate their turn signal within a designated turn-only lane, that traffic stop will be upheld and the turn-signal violation is ticketable.
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.
- 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 a 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.
Interacting with an officer on the roadside can be uncomfortable. Of course you want to be polite to the officer, who is doing their job. However, it may not be advisable to turn this cooperation into an admission, which may negatively effect any defense one may have to the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket.
There are certain areas on Vermont highways that are easier to navigate then others. When it comes to Vermont Interstates I-91 and I-89, the degree of difficulty can be significantly diminished, especially during low traffic times. As a result, many motorists may feel that they can travel at speeds much faster then the posted speed limit. Although traveling a few miles over the posted speed limit may land a motorist a traffic ticket, there are times that the speed alleged is excessively over the posted speed limit, which can lead to a Vermont Excessive Speed criminal charge. One area on I-89 in particular has been deemed a “hotspot” for excessive speed charges, begging the question of what factors are leading to more criminal charges in this stretch of highway then any other in Vermont.
According to a report by Vermont Public Radio, one Vermont State Trooper has arrested several motorists traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph in a 10 mile stretch on I-89 between the Royalton Sharon town lines. For those who have traveled this stretch of road before, it is easy to see why more motorists would feel comfortable traveling at high speeds then on other Vermont highways.
Stretches like this on I-89 can be a recipe for a Vermont Excessive Speed charge if one is not careful
It can be easy to forget the speed you are traveling. In certain areas, it can become even easier to allow this lack of attention to turn into a dangerous situation that may result in a criminal charge. Understanding where these situations may be more likely to occur may not only prevent them from happening, but in the unfortunate event that one is arrested for a Vermont excessive speed charge, it can be a useful tool in rationalizing some of the behavior in order to best argue for leniency when the case is brought to court.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most frequently asked questions as a result of a Vermont traffic ticket are whether the points issued as a result of of the violation transfer to the operator’s home state. In short, there is no exact answer to this question. Each State runs their own point system when it comes to civil traffic infractions. As a result, each state has their own internal policies with regards to whether or not points are shared from one state to another.
It is important to note however, that regardless of whether points transfer, the most important question to those living outside the State of Vermont is whether the violation itself transfers. The violation (defined by a code) is what carries with it the potential for increased insurance rates, which as posted previously can cause motorists thousands of dollars in hiked premiums over the coming years.
What insurance companies are looking for when they check a motorist’s driving record is whether the violations themselves carry with them an indication that they fall under a category of “moving infractions”. This means that the violation charged was the direct result of the manner in which an operator drove their motor vehicle. Speeding violations are the first that come to mind. However, there are other violations such as running a red-light, failure to yield and driving too fast for conditions which carry the same connotation as speed does in the eyes of insurance companies.
As a result, the overall motivation for any operator looking to contest their Vermont traffic ticket is to avoid as much of the “moving violation” indication on their driving record as possible. This will minimize the damage of a driving record check and will ensure that an out-of-state motorist will not be hit as severely or at all, when their insurance company checks up on the driving status of an individual driver.
Its great to support your law enforcement officer. It’s not so great to try and use this connection to get out of a ticket.
Being a member of the Police Benevolent Association is a great way to show your support for law enforcement and the difficult job they perform on a daily basis. However, in the State of Vermont, having a PBA card is not a free pass to getting out of a speeding ticket. In fact, it is a fast track to offending an officer on the roadside and decreasing your likelihood that the officer will be willing to give you a break.
Traveling throughout the state handing traffic tickets it impossible to count the number of times I have spoken to a police officer who has mentioned that the driver they pulled over pulled out a PBA card in an attempt to get them to let them off on the roadside without a ticket. In several cases the officer was so offended that what was originally going to be a warning turned into nasty pink ticket because of the driver’s mindset that they should not be issued a ticket because of their connections in another state. “It offends my professionalism” I can recall one officer stating to me while discussing a potential resolution of a speeding ticket in Windham County.
Because you have friends or family who are law enforcement officer or you are a law enforcement officer yourself, does allow you to drive with relative impunity in the State of Vermont. So next time you are pulled over, it is better to be polite to the officer and keep that PBA card deep inside your pocket. This, in the long run, will be the best move you make if you want a favorable outcome for your Vermont traffic ticket.
Its bad enough for a motorist to be put in handcuffs after being charged with excessive speed, a criminal offense that carries up to 90 days in prison and a suspension of one’s license. However, what more and more motorists are seeing besides the citation to appear in a Vermont court, is that they are also facing a substantial civil infraction for the same offense, a penalty that could result in 8 or more points on one’s driving license and a fine nearing or exceeding $1,000.
There is a method of thinking behind law enforcements issuance of both the civil and criminal violations and it takes some significant digging to figure our exactly what they are looking for with regards to a resolution of the cases. However, in many cases, prosecutors take a one, or the other mentality, where they are satisfied with a motorist pleading to one of the charges in exchange for them dismissing the other. However, this determination if fact-specific and varies from case to case depending on a wide range of factors, such as one’s driving history, how they handled their interaction with police as well as other factors such as prior criminal convictions.
Thus, it is extremely important with excessive speed criminal charges and the accompanying civil charge, to contest them both so that a motorist can preserve their rights to negotiate a favorable deal at a later time once all the facts come to light.
Excessive Speed criminal charges in Vermont are no joke. They come with serious financial penalties and the risk of having a criminal conviction on a motorists’ record for the rest of their life. Thus, it is important to set forth a plan on how to deal with these charges early in the prosecution of the charge. It may just set the motorist on a path far less detrimental then if they just succumb to law enforcement’s suggested punishment.