Have a PBA card? Keep it in your pocket in Vermont

s-l1000

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.

 

The ultimate Vermont traffic ticket double whammy

140769589_3d3c5fee2a_z

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.

 

 

 

What type of insurance hit can I expect from a Vermont moving violation

The fine and the points associated with a traffic ticket only tell a small part of the total monetary story.  The financial consequences of a Vermont moving violation can encompass much more then the fine itself.  One of the biggest concerns for motorists is what type of rate increase they should expect from their auto insurance if their carrier catches wind that the motorist has been convicted of a Vermont DUI or moving violation.

According to a report written by Bankrate.com a  single speeding ticket alone can carry with it between a 19-23% hike in insurance rates.   While a DUI carries with a 93% hike, while reckless driving such as texting while driving can bring with it rate increases as much as 82%.

What is even worse for those with less the pristine driving records is that if you add up a few of these violations, many insurance companies will refuse to even offer you insurance.

Based on the real and substantial consequences of even the most benign of traffic violations, it is important for motorists to calculate what the actual cost of that Vermont DUI, speeding ticket or reckless driving conviction could bring before determining whether or not it is worth the effort and expense of fighting it in the hopes of mitigating or eliminating the collateral consequences.

 

 

Beware! the dreaded driving too fast for conditions Vermont ticket is coming!

As the seasons change and the snow starts to fall, more driver will be venturing outside into slippery driving conditions.  In Vermont, with its sudden elevation changes and narrow roads, the risk of being involved in an accident drastically increases when snow and ice start to hit the roadway.  Thus, in these unfortunate events when a car accident does occur, Vermont law enforcement will be looking to see if drivers were operating their vehicle in a safe manner to determine whether a driving citation or traffic ticket needs to be issued.

Some of the evidence officers will look for is as follows:

  1.  The length of any skid marks to give an indication of how fast the vehicle was moving before the accident;
  2. The condition of the vehicles tires.  Bald tires along can result in a traffic ticket if the officer feels the driver was negligent in not installing sufficient tires on their car for the driving conditions;
  3. The difficulty of the road.  Did this accident occur on a windy tight road, or a wide straight road such as Route 7 or Interstate 89 or 91?
  4. Witness statements.  Did anyone else see the accident occur or the manner of operation leading up to the accident?  Keep in mind here, that if witness observation is the sole basis of the Vermont traffic ticket, the officer will need to provide the witness at the hearing, which is rare in Vermont Judicial Bureau proceedings.

Keep in mind all of the above when venturing out into the snow this winter.  Also keep in mind that in Vermont it assumed that any accident, was a result of driving too fast for the conditions or driving recklessly unless their is proof to refute this assumption and thus, extreme care is needed in order to avoid the tickets or criminal citations that can add insult to an already injurious situation.

Is there such a thing as Vermont traffic ticket probation?

In certain cases, with specific factors an argument may be made that a driver facing a moving violation should be placed on Vermont traffic ticket probation to allow them to prove to the court and the officer that the error they made was not indicative of their overall driving character.  Here is how it works:

1)  The driver must have no other violations in the State of Vermont;

2)  The violation must be relatively minor in nature (i.e. a 2 point speeding violation, failure to use turn signal etc.);

3)  The driving conduct cannot include any kind of accident;

4)  The driver must have been polite and able to acknowledge their conduct, either through their lawyer admitting guilt or through the driver’s own admission.

If the driver meets the following criteria a police officer can agree to dismiss the ticket “with prejudice”.  The officer will conduct a motor vehicle check of the driver in 2 years and if the check comes back clean, with no further violations, the ticket will remain dismissed.  However, if the driver picks up another moving violation in the State of Vermont, the officer can reissue the ticket and the driver must then appear in court to answer to the charge.

Although Vermont traffic ticket probation is a rare occurrence, it may give certain drivers the relief they need to avoid the many financial ramifications that come with a Vermont traffic ticket, beyond what the fine imposes.

The path to a jury trial for a Vermont traffic or CDL ticket

You have filed your notice of denial with the Vermont Judicial Bureau and have received a notice of hearing to appear in a Vermont court, so what happens next?

The process in defending your Vermont CDL or traffic ticket can be multi-faceted depending on the resolution that is reached at each step of the process.   In sum, the more times you ask for a review of a judgment, the more formal the process gets.

The initial hearing: Here is where the record is made, where an initial argument is heard by an assistant judge and is the first place where those facing a traffic infraction can get the result they are hoping for.

These hearings are governed by the Vermont Rules of Small Claims Procedure, a summary procedure to resolve disputes of $5,000 or less.  In an effort to keep these hearings as cost effective as possible, there are numerous exceptions to the Vermont Rules of Evidence that allow Defendants to introduce hearsay evidence that is customarily inadmissible in more formal court proceedings such as statements of third parties, pictures, business records etc…

The initial hearing is where most cases are resolved either by negotiations or through the summary trial procedure.  These hearings are recorded so as to preserve the record in the event an appeal is taken

Appeal to District Court:  If a case is resolved in a fashion not to the Defendant’s liking, they can appeal the decision to a Vermont District Court Judge.  There are certain procedures which must be followed and certain documents that must be filed within a 30 day time period in order for a judge to hear the case on appeal.  In a direct appeal, the Court will review the record and evidence presented at the initial hearing and will issue an order either affirming or overturning the lower court’s decision.  The Court will schedule a time for oral argument to be made unless both side agree to submit the case solely on the record presented.

Option for Jury Trial:  If a defendant desires they can demand a jury trial on their appeal.  This process opens up further avenues to contest the allegations based on legal or procedural grounds that are not afforded at the initial hearing.  Motions to suppress or dismiss may be filed with the consent of the district court judge and may be argued prior to the jury hearing the case.  This may also open up further ways to resolve the case through negotiations that were not afforded at the initial case hearing.

The bottom line is that for many drivers facing a Vermont CDL or traffic ticket, there may be several ways in which they can fight a ticket, which opens up many more ways to reach a resolution that meets both their short and long term goals.

 

 

5 things not to do when pulled over by a police officer

Most motorists have experienced the sinking feeling of being pulled over by law enforcement.  For those caught for speeding or another traffic violation, the conduct on the roadside can make a huge difference in how the Vermont traffic ticket resolves if you elect to challenge the ticket.   In the event that you are pulled over by a police officer, there are five important things to avoid at all costs when the officer begins to approach your vehicle:

1)  Do not make sudden movements while waiting for the officer to approach your window:  Although these movements may seem innocent enough to you, such as shuffling around in your glove box to look for your insurance papers, these movements can make an officer uneasy when approaching the car.  An uneasy officer is a grumpy officer, which is not a good start to the initial interaction.

2)  Do not open the window just a crack so you can pass out your license and registration.  Hiding something?  An officer certainly will think so if you open the window just enough to pass out your documents.  This suspicion could rise into something far more serious if an officer thinks they detect something else, such as the smell of alcohol or marijuana.  If you have nothing to hide, show it by opening the window 100%.

3)  Don’t ignore the officer’s initial greeting:  Saying nothing when an officer comes to your vehicle and greets you is a big no-no.  You don’t have to openly confess to committing a traffic violation, but you certainly can say hello and ask the officer how their day is, a sure-fire way to start your interaction off on the right foot and to put the officer at ease in figuring out how to deal with you.

4) Don’t argue the facts of the stop.  Although the officer may in theory be wrong, the roadside is not the place to plead your case, it is a time to show professionalism and courtesy.  Arguing the merits will increase the likelihood of a ticket.  Also, keep in mind that the officer has some discretion in determining the fine, a way to ensure they do not cut you a financial break is to make a legal argument on the side of the road as to why the stop was unjustified.

5)  Don’t tip your hand as to your intent to challenge the ticket:  Want a way for the officer to remember you?  Tell them that you will see them in Court, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen.  An officer that does not show up for a ticket cannot prosecute it, which means a victory for you.  Telling them on the roadside that you intend to challenge it, will make them much more likely to appear 30-90 days down the road when the Vermont Judicial Bureau sets the matter for a hearing.

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.

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.