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Cops need a warrant to get your vehicle’s black box data

Missouri cops will need to get a search warrant before they can access data from your automobile’s black box.

A recent decision in the Western District of Missouri basically blocks law enforcement from obtaining your black box data after an accident, unless you either consent or they get a warrant.

The appellate court took up the case of a man that had been stopped at traffic and was struck by a semi from behind. The Missouri Highway Patrol then downloaded the data stored on the semi’s electronic control module (ECM). Officers did not use a warrant and argued that there were exigent circumstances, therefore, the semi driver had no expectation of privacy of the data. Up to then, obtaining the black box data had been standard procedure for the highway patrol.

The patrol officer claimed that the driver had given him consent, but that box had not been checked off in his police report. The appellate court relied on a recent US Supreme Court case on GPS spying to find the police arguments were insufficient.

Judge Cynthia L. Martin wrote: “Sergeant Meyers’s testimony underscores that ECM data was seized from West’s truck not because there was probable cause to believe that West had committed a crime and that evidence of the crime could be found in the truck, but instead to investigate an accident to determine whether West had committed a crime.”

The court added that to allow warrantless searches on these grounds would “emasculate” the Fourth Amendment to the constitution.

Here is an unofficial summary of the case and should not be used as legal doctrine:

(1) The State’s arguments on appeal asserting error in granting the motion to suppress which were not raised with the trial court are not preserved for appellate review.

(2) Either a reasonable expectation of privacy or trespass on a possessory interest in a Fourth Amendment protected effect will afford standing to assert a Fourth Amendment violation. Here, West was the lawful operator and possessor of the semitruck at the time the police physically intruded into the semi-truck’s passenger compartment to connect a computer to the ECM located underneath the semi-truck’s dash. That physical intrusion into, and occupation of, the semi-truck constituted an actionable trespass into a protected Fourth Amendment effect (a vehicle) which afforded West standing to move to suppress the data downloaded from the ECM.

(3) The automobile exception allows police to search a vehicle and seize
contraband found therein without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband and exigent circumstances necessitate the search. The State presented no evidence during the hearing on the motion to suppress to suggest or establish that the police had probable cause to believe that contraband or illegal items were located in the semi-truck.

(4) While the State presented testimony that ECM data might be overwritten if the semi-truck was moved, the trial court did not find this evidence to be sufficient to constitute an exigent circumstance permitting a warrantless search. The trial court’s finding was supported by substantial evidence.

(State of Missouri v. Anthony West, WD80879)

Missouri task force looks to strengthen driving safety laws

Safety was the key word in discussions at a recent task force meeting in Jefferson City, Mo., that discussed Missouri’s transportation system.

The task force, named Missouri’s 21st Century Transportation System task force, is charged with reviewing the funding of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

Between 1999-2016, MoDOT installed 800 miles of guard cable on Missouri interstates. According to MoDOT representatives, the guard cable has saved more than 500 lives. The cost of the safety cables, approximately $125,000 per mile. And another $10,000 per mile is needed to maintain annually.

Missouri has the seventh-largest state highway system, with 33,884 miles of roadway.

MoDOT says fatality crashes increased nine percent in 2016. Hood testifies 950 people died in Missouri traffic crashes in 2016.

Deaths continue to occur as motorists continue to drive without buckling up, driving intoxicated, texting while driving, and speeding. Sometimes deaths result because all of these factors. Deaths from traffic crashes increased nine percent in 2016, with 950 deaths in 2016 alone.

There are 16 states, including Missouri, without a primary seat belt law. Considering that Missouri is 50th ranked in a safety report by the National Safety Council (NSC).

This fact has MoDOT out front pushing state lawmakers to approve a primary seatbelt law. Already 53 municipalities have passed their own primary seat belt laws.

Some of the suggestions for increased driving safety have been strengthening laws for child passengers, no-texting laws, seatbelt laws, and the use of red-light traffic cameras.

MoDOT has come out to describe distracted driving that includes texting to be an epidemic, with nearly 40,000 deaths a year across the nation. MoDOT bans its drivers from driving and texting, and some 250 companies across the state are committing to ban its employees from texting and driving while on duty. Recommendations from the task force are expected by the first of next year.

With Missouri being the 47th lowest in fuel taxes in the nation, the task force is looking to fund the increased safety measures with a potential fuel tax increase. Strong opposition is expected to block any fuel tax increase.

Columbia bill makes texting and driving an offense for all ages

The City of Columbia, Missouri, is considering passing a bill that will ban texting while driving for drivers of all ages.

Currently, there is a statewide rule that prohibits texting for drivers 21 years old and younger. If passed, the ordinance would make Columbia one of the few Missouri towns that bans texting for all ages.

However, the legal grounds to pass such a regulation is questionable. 

Supporters of the bill argue that they will have different approach for violators 22 years and older. Columbia police will be directed to issue tickets to the older adults only after another primary traffic offense has happened. The current state law for 21 and younger makes driving while texting a primary offense that police can pull the younger drivers over. The law prohibits the use of a cell phone to “send, read or write a text message or electronic message.” The older drivers must first commit another violation before they get a citation.

The law, however, is different for commercial motor vehicle driving. Those drivers are prohibited to use hand-held cell phones to text or make a call.

The consensus among the legal community is unclear whether municipals have the power to pass more restrictive laws on texting. In St. Louis County, the City of Kirkwood has adopted a more stringent ordinance but most other cities have not because attorneys disagree about the issue.

The Columbia ban was a recommendation from a 2016 Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety.

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, is a common reason for deadly or injurious traffic crashes in Columbia.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, since the start of 2017, there were 125 vehicle crashes in related to distracted driving, a category that includes driving and texting.  Of those, 24 of the crashes involved injuries, with five injuries disabling.

Kinloch officials ordered to court to explain traffic ticket

A St. Louis County circuit court judge ordered City of Kinloch offices to appear in court to explain why they allegedly would not allow a citizen to contest a traffic ticket she received last month.

The individual, Kathy Grant of Florissant, received a $125 traffic ticket in the mail on March 6.  The ticket accused her of driving 51-mph in a 40-mph speed zone on North Hanley Road in Kinloch on February 16. 

Grant denies she was speeding.  The ticket was mailed to Grant’s husband but she admits she was the driver of the car, heading to work that day.

The ticket showed a photo of the back of Grant’s car and license plate but no photo of the driver.  Also, the ticket did not contain a specific address as to where she was caught speeding. 

 The ticket payment date for the fine was April 5, however, she gave her ticket to an attorney to handle.

According to court documents, Circuit Court Judge Douglas R. Beach ordered City Manager Justine Blue, Kinloch Mayor Darren Small, and a Kinloch judge, Christopher Bent, to appear in court last week on May 11 to explain why the ticket was not a violation of Missouri law.

The ticket apparently allows the fine to be paid directly to a private company, and was not filed in Kinloch municipal court, according to the order.

Apparently a party had asked the Municipal Court for a trial on the allegations against them.  They were told that the notice was not a ticket. At this point, due process was not granted nor is it available to challenge the notice, the judge’s order stated.

The concern is that the notices are misleading to the public that they are part of the court process with due process of law.


Appellate Court rules on breathalyzer certification check

A recent Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District decision reversed and remanded the lower court by holding that a trial court erred in excluding the test result from evidence because the Director of Revenue laid a proper foundation for its admission.

The Department of Health and Senior Services regulation 19 CSR 25-30.051(4) requires annual certification of any breath alcohol simulator used to perform a maintenance check on an evidential breath analyzer. The Court went on to say that to lay a foundation for the admission of a breath test result at trial, the Director only need submit proof the simulator was certified at the time of the relevant maintenance check.  In this case, that check was performed within 35 days prior to the Driver’s breath test. The Court said the Director does not have to submit proof of certification from any other year for purposes of admissibility.

The Director of Revenue had appealed from the judgment of the trial court reinstating the driving privileges of Justin Scott Hickenbotham.  The Director argued on appeal that the trial court erred in reinstating the driver’s driving privileges because the court erred in excluding from evidence the breath test result showing Driver’s blood alcohol content exceeded the legal limit.

The opinion was written by Judges Sherri B. Sullivan and Roy L. Richter.  Judge Colleen Dolan concurred.  Rachel Jones was the attorney for Appellant.  Attorneys for Respondent were Chastidy Dillon-Amelung and John F. Newsham.  The case was Justin Scott Hickenbotham v. Department of Revenue.

The Court referenced several previous cases in its analysis and stated the following: “Sellenriek’s and Kern’s reasoning that the only relevant evidence is that which demonstrates compliance when the breath test was administered is still good law and applies in this case. See Harrell, 488 S.W.3d at 208. As with the maintenance check provision, implicit in 19 CSR 25-30.051(4) is that a breath analyzer simulator certified at the time of the relevant maintenance check is capable of accurately calibrating the breath analyzer. Carey v. Dir. of Rev., —- S.W.3d —- (Mo. App. E.D. March 28, 2017); see Sellenriek, 826 S.W.2d at 340. Nothing in the regulations suggests the accuracy of the simulator at the time of the maintenance check is dependent on the certification of the simulator in prior or subsequent years. See Sellenriek, 826 S.W.2d at 340; Harrell, 488 S.W.3d at 208. “The Director need not prove the existence of certifications before the one in effect at the time of the relevant maintenance check in order to comply with 19 CSR 25-30.051(4).” Carey, —- S.W.3d —-. Instead, a foundation for the admission of the breath test result is laid when the Director presents evidence the simulator was certified at the time of the relevant maintenance check. Harrell, 488 S.W.3d at 208.

“Evidence of whether the simulator was properly certified in prior or subsequent years

goes to the weight of the breath test result, not its admissibility. See Kern, 936 S.W.2d at 862. Furthermore, Driver’s interpretation of 19 CSR 25-30.051(4) would mean a simulator not certified in 2013 or any subsequent year is effectively unusable and fails to account for simulators brought into use any time after 2013, an illogical reading leading to irrational results.”

The Court went on to say that in the present case: “The Director laid a sufficient foundation for admission of the result of the breath test administered in 2015 by submitting the 2015 simulator certification. The Director’s point on appeal is granted. Because the court did not make a finding as to whether Trooper Ganime had probable cause to arrest Driver, the cause is remanded for additional findings by the trial court.”

A $3.00 court fee applied to traffic tickets now under scrutiny

A $3.00 court fee charged to municipal court tickets that funds sheriff’s pensions is under scrutiny in Missouri.

Missouri’s municipal courts began in 2014 to charge a $3.00 court fee to defendants to help fund the Sheriffs’ Retirement Fund. However, some judges and legal scholars are questioning whether the charge is constitutional because the sheriff’s department does not operate at the municipal level.

As many retirement funds for government workers were having trouble receiving funding in Missouri and other states, that has not been the case for the sheriff’s fund. The $3.00 charge ended up increasing the retirement fund significantly, up more than $10 million in assets between 2012 and 2015.

Many sheriff employees throughout the state, particularly in rural areas, receive low wages and depend upon the fund’s pension to live off of after retirement.

The attorney general at the time, Chris Koster, issued three opinions that indicated the $3.00 court fee that funds sheriff’s pensions should be applied to the state’s municipal courts. The Missouri Supreme Court, which prior to this third opinion issued, had not approved the fee to be used at the municipal court level. But this last time in 20163 the court approved it, adding the fee to traffic tickets and other tickets at the municipal level in 2014. The charge applied to all municipal courts except for St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis.

Approximately 362 of the 608 cities, villages and towns in Missouri that have a municipal court may be refusing to charge the $3.00 sheriffs fun charge to municipal court cases. This now has the Sheriffs’ Retirement System seeking help to the municipal level governments to charge the fee and pass on the money.

C.F. Barnes, executive director of the retirement system, sent letters on March 6 to Circuit Clerks in 102 Missouri counties, asking them to enforce the Missouri Supreme Court’s August 2013 order to apply the surcharge to court cases.

This is setting up a fight between the Supreme Court, municipal courts and the Sheriffs’ Retirement Fund. Stay tuned as this story progresses.

St. Louis County Municipal court revenue down since Ferguson unrest

Looks as if the amount of revenue from St. Louis area municipal courts is way down since the social unrest in 2014 after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. This is according to research tabulated in an annual report by the Missouri state court system.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tabulated information from the report and found that the data shows there has been a significant drop in revenue collected by municipal courts in St. Louis County.  Revenue was down from $53 million in fines and fees collected in year ending June 2014 to $29 million in year ending June 2016.

A similar trend can be seen in the number of traffic cases in the city of St. Louis.  The number of traffic cases filed last year fell to 66,008. This represents a drop of 69 percent compared to two years ago.

The data shows that the number of traffic cases in Ferguson last year, 1,736, had dropped 85 percent from two years ago, and non-traffic cases were down a similar percentage.  Fergusons court revenue plummeted from more than $2 million two years ago to just $579,000 this last year.  Ferguson had been under fire from the U.S. Department of Justice in the aftermath of Michael Brown. 

Ferguson’s municipal court system had been the target of a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report as well as intense scrutiny from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other media.  Local attorneys can tell you that the long lines out the door are no longer the case.

Other cities in North County known for their intense speed traps along the I-70 corridor have also seen a drop in revenue, according to the court report.

St. Ann, for example, saw revenue drop nearly a million dollars from $2.6 million two years ago to $1.7 million this last year. Tickets issued fell during that same time period from over 25,000 to 9,880. 

Florissant municipal court revenue went from $2.6 million to $1.7 million. Normandy fell from $1.4 million to slightly over $788,000.  Pine Lawn dropped from $2,2 million to $652,925.  Berkeley was down from $1.2 million to $378,327.

Court of Appeals strikes down ordinance establishing new police standards

A recent Eastern District of Missouri Court of Appeals ruling struck down an ordinance establishing new police standards in St. Louis County.

St. Louis County had enacted an ordinance authorizing the County Executive to impose countywide minimum police standards.  However, the cities affected by that ordinance filed a petition to have it invalidated. 

The trial court had ruled that the county had no authority to enact the ordinance.  The Court of Appeals affirmed. 

The reasoning was as follows: The Missouri Constitution provides that certain exercises of legislative authority be subject to a county-wide vote. At the same time, the state’s constitution also allows a county charter to authorize any action permitted by statute, including public health standards.  The Court says standards of police conduct fall within public safety and not public health as public health is limited to preventing disease.  Furthermore, the Court held that the county’s authority to legislate police conduct standards does not depend on the proposition that low standards harm residents. 

The Court said: “The County’s reliance on information presented to the County Council as to the impact of this ordinance on public health does not aid its argument for how this was a valid exercise of authority under Section 192.300.  The positive impact that improved law enforcement may have on the public – including the extent to which it improves the community’s physical and mental well-being – is simply not what was meant by “enhance public health” in Section 192.300.  To hold otherwise would be to broaden the scope of authority beyond what the legislature intended by granting counties the power to make “additional health rules” in Section 192.300.  Thus, this Ordinance was not a valid exercise of the County’s authority conferred by that statute.”

Law enforcement ups efforts to prevent DWIs over holidays

Watch out for intoxicated drivers this holiday season.  At least that’s what Missouri Highway Patrol is planning to do.  Law enforcement agencies around the country are expected to step up their efforts to curtail drinking and driving these next couple weeks.

Many law enforcement agencies from across the nation will be participating in an initiative called “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”

According to news reports, the Missouri State Highway Patrol intends to increase the number of officers and checkpoints for the holidays.  Law enforcement officials say the combination of bad weather such as ice and snow plus driving impaired leads to a significant number of accidents.

Many Missouri courts will punish the first time DWI offender with some combination of fines, jail time, probation, community service, victim impact panels, and treatment through DWI courts.  They hope to curtail the number of DWI’s and DWI repeat offenders.   Missouri in 2015 had 870 traffic fatalities of which just under one-fourth of them involved some form of alcohol or drug impairment.

Be sure to have fun and drive safe this holiday season.  Happy Holidays.

MADD lowers grade on efforts by Missouri, Illinois to prevent drunk driving

Missouri and Illinois slipped in how Mothers Against Drunk Driving ranked both states’ efforts to prevent drunk driving.

MADD recently released its annual overview ranking each state’s progress in stopping drunken driving. There are five areas to judge and rank each state. They include the following:

1) How sobriety checkpoints are conducted;

2) The degree of punishments for putting children in danger;

3) Whether or not ignition interlocks are required, which is a machine that prevents a car from starting if a driver’s blood-alcohol level exceeds a certain limit;

4) Whether drivers licenses are revoked; and

5) The degree of punishment for refusing a blood-alcohol test.

It was just last year that Missouri and Illinois received the highest rating of five stars. This was the first year that a new half-star ranking was used in order to provide a more nuanced analysis of each category.  This year both Missouri and Illinois dropped a half star to four stars.

Each state slipped because of how it handled license suspensions, with Missouri for its blood-test refusals and Illinois for its punishments related to child endangerment.

Missouri does not have a statewide “no-refusal” law that requires police to obtain a warrant to draw blood from suspected drunk drivers who have refused to take a breath test. There are counties, such as St. Louis County since 2013, that do this on their own.  However, other counties have not chosen to do so.

Missouri does have an implied consent law that mandates that a driver who refuses to be tested will lose their driving privileges for one year.  The number of refusals have been dropping in Missouri.

Some 973 people nationwide were killed nationwide in drunken driving crashes.  These deaths occurred between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, amounting to almost 10 percent of all drunk driving accidents. MADD contends that almost a third of traffic deaths on the day before Thanksgiving Day and Christmas involved drunk driving.