Tag Archives: traffic ticket attorney missouri

A call to put teeth back into enforcing traffic violations

Did the 2015 municipal court reforms for traffic violations go too far?

That is the subject of a great editorial by the Kansas City Star a few weeks ago talking about how too many people with traffic tickets are not paying their fines and are getting away with it. Since the state-wide municipal court reform after the Ferguson uprising, there doesn’t seem to be any punishment for not paying fines and not showing up to court.

In many communities, traffic violators have figured out that they don’t need to show up to court because the effective tools of punishment such as higher fines, warrants for not showing up to court, or suspending a person’s license is not an option.

Maximum fines were lowered from $500 to $225. Many cities coffers are severely depleted and are finding it difficult to impossible to enforce law violators without an adequate budget. This has also carried over to enforcement of residential nuisance ordinances that are designed to keep housing safe, particularly with abandoned properties.

For example, one person who didn’t show up to court in a town near Kansas City had been arrested four times for a $450 ticket from 2015 for driving with no insurance and driving with a suspended license. She still hasn’t paid, and likely never will.

One judge was quoted as saying, “These people just continue to drive, except they don’t drive to court.”

One state senator tried to pass a bill to put some teeth back into law enforcement. His idea was that if a citizen fails to show up for a court date, a judge could order community service, issue a civil fine or put a hold on a driver’s license.

The editorial calls for Missouri to revisit its 2015 reforms with the goal of restoring some authority to its municipal courts to better find a balance between being overbearing on constituency and effectively punishing and enforcing our traffic laws. Because as the editorial states, “As of now, they’ve been effectively defanged.”

Out-of-state DWI’s can be used to elevate a DWI to a felony

Interesting case here from the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District. It is a good example of how the court analyzes out of state DWI related convictions to determine whether they are the equivalent of a Missouri DWI conviction. This is important when it comes to using the out of state DWI convictions to charge an individual with a higher charge under the Chronic Offender statute.

In Missouri, four prior of intoxication-related traffic offenses (“IRTOs”) means the state can charge you with chronic offender status, thereby making it a felony a Class B felony.

The Prosecution admitted evidence of six previous occasions of IRTOs from Arkansas. Defendant appeals the admission of four of these previous IRTOs.

The court found two of the underlying charges to be distinguishable from the ruling in the case of State v. Coday, 496 S.W.3d 572 (Mo. App. 2016), which did not find IRTO convictions in Kansas, because they failed to meet Missouri’s evidentiary standards for a DWI. Kansas Law punishes persons operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. In order to use an IRTO out of Kansas, there must be evidence that the individual was convicted of operating a motor vehicle as required for a Missouri DWI.

In this case, two of the underlying charges were municipal ordinance violations. The record did not provide the wording of these municipal ordinance. The court held: “Moreover, “a judgment that, on its face, shows a guilty plea or a finding of guilt of an [IRTO] can be treated as a prior conviction for purposes of enhancement under § 577.023.” Craig, 287 S.W.3d at 681–82 . . . Stated another way, we cannot say here that it was unreasonable for the trial court to infer that a conviction for “driving while intoxicated” was a conviction for driving while intoxicated.”

While, two of the proffered charges may have been thrown out following the ruling in Coday as the statute provided for operate or be in physical control. The court already had 4 prior IRTOs so it declined to make a decision.

Bottom line, if you have previous DWIs in another state, make sure you present the wording of the statute or ordinance in order to exclude the IRTOs as not complying with Missouri Law.

Overturned DWI based on time between accident/blood drawn

A recent Missouri Western District Court of Appeals decision says a guilty verdict failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was drunk at the time of the accident.
The appellate court essentially determined that too much time had transpired between an accident and when blood was drawn. That fact, plus that there was no evidence that the man had been driving his vehicle when it was driven off the road or evidence of when he became intoxicated led them to overturn the trial court.

The man was clearly drunk according to witnesses but they never observed him driving his vehicle or drinking. Witnesses drove him home and later went back to the scene and called the police. Police found empty beer cans in the vehicle and went to visit the man at his home. He clearly was intoxicated and could not stand to perform a walk and turn field sobriety test.

He was arrested at 11:40 p.m. and transported to the hospital due to concerns about the level of alcohol in his system. He refused to provide a blood sample. A warrant to draw blood sample was obtained and blood was drawn at 2:47 a.m. The test determined that his blood alcohol level was .129 at that time. The man was found guilty during a bench trial for DWI.

The Western District reversed the trial judge. They held that while the State established that he was intoxicated at the time he was first observed by witness, there was no evidence as to when the accident occurred, when the man last consumed alcohol or when he became intoxicated. The trial court erred in convicting him of driving while intoxicated because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he operated a vehicle while intoxicated.

The court discussed the timing of the accident and the time blood was drawn to prove intoxication: “Wilhite raises one point on appeal. In his sole point on appeal, Wilhite argues that there is insufficient evidence to convict him of driving while intoxicated because the evidence failed to establish a temporal connection between Wilhite’s alleged operation of a motor vehicle and his intoxication.

“The offense of driving while intoxicated, section 577.010.1, requires proof of two elements: (1) that the defendant operated a motor vehicle, and (2) was intoxicated while doing so.” State v. Ollison, 236 S.W.3d 66, 68 (Mo. App. W.D. 2007).

Wilhite begins by arguing that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he operated a motor vehicle because no one witnessed him actually driving the truck.
However, Wilhite was the only one at the accident scene on the side of a rural roadway and told Tracy that he was the only one in the vehicle. Based on these facts, the trial court could have reasonably inferred he was operating the truck at the time of the accident. There was sufficient circumstantial evidence to establish that he operated the vehicle. See State v. Besendorfer, 439 S.W.3d 831, 836-37 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014)(holding that circumstantial evidence, including Besendorfer admitting he was the only person in the truck when he was found, was sufficient evidence for “a reasonable trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Besendorfer had ‘operated’ his vehicle.”).

Wilhite then argues that there was insufficient evidence that he was intoxicated at the time he was operating the truck. “Proof of intoxication at the time of arrest, when remote from the operation of the vehicle, is insufficient in itself to prove intoxication at the
time the person was driving.” Ollison, 236 S.W.3d at 68. “In this remote circumstance, ‘time [is] an element of importance’ that the State must establish to meet its burden of proving the defendant drove while intoxicated.” State v. Davis, 217 S.W.3d 358, 360 (Mo. App. W.D. 2007) (quoting State v. Dodson, 496 S.W.2d 272, 274 (Mo. App. W.D. 1973).
“‘Remoteness’, as used in drunk driving cases, has two dimensions: remoteness in time from operating a vehicle, and remoteness in distance from the vehicle.” State v. Varnell, 316 S.W.3d 510, 514 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010).

When the defendant is arrested at a remote time from the operation of the vehicle, the State must show further evidence than a test that reveals the defendant was intoxicated at the time of arrest. State v. Wilson, 273 S.W.3d 80, 82 (Mo. App. W.D. 2008). “There are two rationales for this requirement, but both have the same foundation: the longer the interval between driving and testing, the less accurately the test reflects the state of the driver at the time of the arrest.” Varnell, 316 S.W.3d at 514.

The first reason that an extended time period between driving and testing can result in an inaccurate test is that the defendant may have had time and opportunity to drink alcohol after he ceased driving. Id. The second rationale for requiring additional evidence is based on the manner in which alcohol is processed by the human body. Id. One does not become intoxicated immediately upon the ingestion of alcohol. Davis, 217 S.W.3d at 361. “[A]lcohol must be absorbed into the bloodstream before it affects a person, and it can take thirty to ninety minutes before the maximum blood alcohol level is reached.”
Varnell, 316 S.W.3d at 514. “[I]t is theoretically possible for a driver who quickly ingests alcohol immediately prior to taking a short drive to be in a sober condition when driving, but, due to process of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, to exceed the limit afterwards.” Id.

In this case, Wilhite was dropped off at his trailer at approximately 10:30 p.m. and was first contacted by Trooper Johnson at approximately 11:30 p.m. For this at least one hour there was no testimony as to Wilhite’s actions or his access to alcohol. Ward was present in the trailer for at least a portion of that time and testified at trial, but the State never inquired as to whether or not Wilhite had access to or consumed any alcohol during that time period. Wilhite was at home for a significant amount of time, giving him ample opportunity to consume alcohol after he drove the truck but prior to his first contact with Trooper Johnson and getting his blood drawn at least three hours later. There was no evidence to establish a correlation between the blood alcohol content reflected in the blood test result and Wilhite’s blood alcohol content at the unknown time he last operated the vehicle. However, the lack of a correlation between the test result and the operation of the vehicle is not dispositive of the issues in this case.”

The case, WD80701, originated in Boone County and the appeal was heard before Division Three Judges Victor C. Howard (Presiding Judge), Cynthia L. Martin, and Gary D. Witt. The opinion was written by Judge Witt, June 5, 2018.

Kansas City drivers be on the lookout for police

The trick to avoid speeding crack downs is to hear about them first before you hit the road.  So, drivers around Kansas City, this is for you.

For those Kansas City drivers on Interstate 29 and Barry Road area, slow it down and obey speed signs. Starting May 25, the Missouri Highway Patrol along with the Kansas City Police Department and the Platte County Sheriff’s Office started a strategic traffic enforcement effort targeting unsafe driving in this area.  Their hope is to curtail the number of crashes by going after every moving violation they can. According to news reports, the crack down on speeding and unsafe driving will last for several months. This area of Kansas City had seen a high number of crashes this last year.

Cities causing home owners to make up for traffic ticket revenue drops

Drivers are no longer the only people that need to watch out for overzealous small cities seeking to raise money instead of raising taxes. Now homeowners are being aggressively targeted to pay fines related to housing violations.

Apparently, the use of traffic violations is not the only way small cities are raising money to run their towns. A recent trend, especially in the St. Louis region since the post-Ferguson Court Reform that capped the amount of revenue raised from traffic tickets, is for cities to pursue neighborhood ordinance nuisance violations.

What we saw in the St. Louis metro area since post Ferguson also takes place around the country. New stats compiled shows that many cities are using these tactics to raise money and that several St. Louis area municipals remain among the top practitioners.

Cash-strapped towns and cities across the nation don’t want to raise taxes to pay the costs of running their cities. Instead, they are using their nuisance laws — with fines and fees for minor traffic violations and violations of local housing codes — to balance their budgets.

For example, in Mountain View, Colorado – a town of around 500 people — made $621,099 in citation revenue in 2013, almost half its annual budget. Several other small Colorado towns in 2015 made more than 30 percent of their revenue from issuing traffic tickets.

The Institute for Justice has filed lawsuits around the country taking on these practices. One lawsuit in Pagedale, Missouri (a town of 3,300), notes that some 1,336 tickets were issued to 896 individuals for housing violations between a seven-year period (January 2010-September 2017). That would mean 39 percent of the city’s adult population was cited.

Violations could include failure to “neatly” hang drapes or curtains; small tears in screen doors; hosting a barbecue in front yards; failure to keep beer away from the grill; etc. A consent decree was negotiated recently that settles the case. The settlement includes reforms on how the City identifies, tickets, and tries those accused of violating its municipal code.

Below is a list of several jurisdictions that heavily rely upon the use of fines and fees to raise revenues. Many of this are right here in Missouri. Statistics were gathered from a 2012 analysis of cities by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2017. Here’s an excellent article on that best explains and breaks down this trend towards taxation by ticket.

Dependent Cities using fines and fees to raise revenue
CITY STATE FINES AS PERCENT OF REVENUE

Saint Ann Missouri 30.40%
North Hills New York 25.60%
Clarkston Georgia 24.40%
Morrow Georgia 22.70%
Stone Mountain Georgia 22.10%
Doraville Georgia 20.60%
Cedarhurst New York 18.80%
Riverdale Georgie 18.70%
St. Johns Missouri 18.00%
Willow Springs Illinois 17.10%
Great Neck Plaza New York 15.80%
Riverdale Dark Maryland 15.70%
Sunset Utah 14.50%
Oakland Tennessee 14.50%
Bellafontaine Neighbors Missouri 14.40%
Millersville Tennessee 14%
College Park Maryland 13.60%
Ferguson Missouri 12.90%
Lake Dallas Texas 12.80%
Maryland Heights Missouri 12.60%
Snellville Georgia 12.40%
Gretna Louisiana 12.20%
Dardenne Prairie Missouri 11.90%
Laurel Maryland 11.80% $66,355 7.80% 29.50%
Los Fresnos Texas 11.50% $39,149 33.10% 1.20%
U.S. AVERAGE 1.40% $54,651 15.60% 78.30%

Court privacy ruling protects driver of borrowed rental car

Picture yourself driving a rental car that was rented by your friend or a family member. You are then pulled over by the police. The police want to search the vehicle. Do you let them? Do you even have a choice?

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week gave us clear answers. This Country’s high court said that people who borrow rental cars from family or friends are generally entitled to the same protections against police searches as the actual authorized driver who rented the vehicle.

The decision was unanimous. If a person is in lawful possession and control of the rental car they are deemed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car, even if the rental agreement doesn’t list them as an authorized driver. Therefore, the police will have to have probable cause of a crime committed or a warrant to search the car.

The argument by the current administration was that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy of an unauthorized driver in a borrowed car. Therefore, police could search it without the unauthorized driver’s consent. Attorneys who argued against the search stated that around 115 million car rentals occur each year in the United States. And if the government wins their argument, police would be given an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because they would know they have the right to search it if the driver is not on the rental agreement.

The case involved a driver named Terrence Byrd who in 2014 was driving his fiancée’s rental car on a highway in Pennsylvania. A state trooper stopped him alleging he had committed a minor traffic violation. The troopers observed that Byrd was acting nervously during the stop and he went on to admit that he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. The officers then searched the vehicle, telling Byrd that they did not need his consent because his name was not on the authorization form. When they opened the trunk they discovered 2,500 bags of heroin and body armor. Byrd would later admit that he planned to sell the drugs for $7,000. Byrd received a 10-year prison sentence.

Municipal Court not immune from suit

Local municipal courts do not hold sovereign immunity against claims that its practices of traffic and vehicle violations were unconstitutional.

In November 2016, six motorists filed federal claims against a traffic and ticketing practice by the City of Maplewood did not hold constitutional muster.

The Plaintiff’s argument as described in the opinion: “They assert the City automatically issues an arrest warrant whenever someone ticketed for violating its traffic and vehicle laws fails to pay a fine or appear in court. Once arrested, the motorist is allegedly presented with a Hobson’s choice: Either pay a bond the amount of which was set in advance without any determination of his ability to pay it, or sit in jail possibly for days. The plaintiffs further contend that once a warrant has been issued, a motorist cannot avoid it by voluntarily returning to the municipal court or paying the outstanding fine, but must either submit to a custodial arrest or retain a lawyer to argue a motion before the municipal judge to vacate the warrant. If the court does not grant the motion, the motorist, whose presence in court the judge allegedly demands, will be arrested and jailed. Jail, the plaintiffs assert, is the means by which the City attempts to coerce the motorist into paying the bond to secure his release. The complaint indicates that the City’s policy or custom involves additional steps that can ensnare motorists in repeated cycles of arrest, jailing, and pressure to pay a bond irrespective of their ability to do so. The plaintiffs maintain that since their poverty makes it difficult if not impossible to pay the bond, the City thereby violates, among other things, their due-process and equal-protection rights.”

The City of Maplewood moved to dismiss the claim under the grounds of sovereign immunity.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Maplewood enjoys no sovereign immunity against claims that its handling of traffic and vehicle violations is unconstitutional.

The ruling affirmed the district court’s ruling that the City is not immune from being sued under 42 U.S.C.1983 in a class action lawsuit that alleged the City’s policy of automatically issuing arrest warrants was unconstitutional. The practice involved issuing arrest warrants when a traffic ticket was not paid or when a person failed to appear in court.

In its holding, the court said that municipalities were not like States. Municipal courts do not enjoy a constitutionally protected immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.

The court rejected other arguments the City made such as it was just maintaining a practice as an arm of the state; and that it was immune from suit because individuals identified as participating in the practices were personally immune from suit. The court explained that in the past a municipality has always been held liable for an unconstitutional practice even when no official was found to be personally liable for their actions under the custom or policy that was found unconstitutional.

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)

Watch out for police hotspots when speeding in Kansas City

If you tend to drive fast around the Kansas City area, you may want to check out a listing of traffic hotspots that the Kansas City Star compiled.

The Kansas City Star stated that in 2017 more than 118,000 traffic and parking tickets were issued by the Kansas City Police Department and processed through the municipal court. A good majority of them were on highways Interstate 435 and U.S. 71.

The newspaper took traffic and parking ticketing data from Kansas City Municipal Court for all of last year. They were able to identify where the most tickets were given, who is getting them, and what infractions are producing the most tickets.

Police broke down the locations where tickets were issued two ways: intersections and specific addresses. Intersections were primarily for traffic tickets such as speeding and improper lane change. Specific addresses were primarily for parking tickets.

In descending order, each of the following intersections had more than 500 citations:

10. U.S. 71 and Bannister Road

These were mostly speeding tickets, where drivers average 13 mph over the limit.

9. I-435 and 87th Street

Speeding again received the most tickets at this location with the average over the limit was 15 mph.

8. U.S. 169 and Briarcliff Parkway

Speeding has the most, with average over the limit of 13 mph.

7. U.S. 71 and 55th Street

The most common ticket given was for not properly displaying a state license plate on a vehicle, followed by speeding.

6. I-435 and Eastwood

Speeding again had the most tickets.

5. U.S. 71 and 75th Street

At this intersection, people were given the most tickets for not using designated traffic lanes and not properly displaying a state license plate. Tickets included about 100 seat belt violations.

4. Blue Parkway and South Noland Road

Speeding it is, with average speed 15 mph.

3. I-435 and Missouri 210

Speeding was number one reason for tickets here.

2. U.S. 71 and 39th Street

Speeding wins again. The Star notes that the highest speed recorded was 97 mph in a 55 mph zone.

1. Around the Heart of America Bridge

And to buck the trend, the main reason for some 1,400 plus tickets was for failure to obey signs with a lane change.

For the original article click here.

Legislature proposes a bill to curb racial profiling by law enforcement

Lawmakers in Missouri are reviewing a bill that is designed to curb discriminatory policing among law enforcement agencies. The bill, which recently had a hearing before a legislative committee, calls for disciplinary options and procedures that would be a check on discriminatory practices.

The bill places penalties on both individual law enforcement and on their agency when they are found engaging in discriminatory policing or racial profiling. Discipline could include counseling, termination, or training of any officer found to have engaged in discriminatory policing.

If a law enforcement department is found to have a disproportionate number of minority drivers stopped compared to the state average, the attorney general can provide resources to address it. If the problem continues for another three years, the attorney general could remove the agency’s funding by directing the local governing body to forfeit 25% of the police department’s revenue received from court costs, bond forfeitures, and fines.

Additionally, the bill calls for officers to use a consent search policy and requires information to be gathered from every vehicle stop. The data collected will then be analyzed by the attorney general.

The consent search would require that an officer prior to requesting a search would have to clearly state, either orally or in writing, in a language the person being questioned clearly understands that their consent must be voluntary.

Next, an officer would have to get recorded audio or video or written consent from the person who was stopped.

Officers will be expected to collect 11 pieces of information that include a reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, and whether a warning or citation was issued.

Then by March 1st of each year, the agency must submit its report to the attorney general who will analyze the data and submit a report to the state legislature by June 1st of each year.