Ask The Lawyer - Pandemic Version
I am writing this article well into the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past month or so I have received several, questions about citations and the status of the courts. With that in mind, I thought I would do a brief Q&A.
Since many states have issued “Safer at Home” orders there are less vehicles on the road? How is this impacting enforcement? Are they still writing tickets?
It comes as no surprise that during the pandemic there are less “civilian” vehicles on the road. For many drivers used to dealing with congestion this can be welcome relief. With less 4-wheelers you would think that more CMV would be receiving tickets. However, this does not appear to be the case.
During this crisis, the enforcement officers working the highways now have a new reality. They are working with CDL drives to make sure that essential goods and services are delivered. Sure they may still write a citation and make an arrest but their goal is also to help make sure necessary goods get delivered and distributed as needed. This is apparently resulting in less tickets being written as everyone (trucking, enforcement and government) is pulling on the same rope. In fact, I know of a police department who has offered to deliver food to drivers that stop at the rest stop outside of town. Who would have thought we would see that a year ago!
Of course, you can and will still get a ticket if you are reckless and endangering others. And, rest assured, we will see more tickets being written and things will return to normal regarding citations before too much longer.
When an officer writes me a ticket, do I have to sign it?
You never have to do anything, if you are willing to accept the consequences for your actions. The best way to think about this question is to understand that a traffic ticket is nothing until it becomes a conviction. A traffic ticket is only the officer’s opinion that you violated the law. It is not proof, it is not evidence, in fact it is only a note to the officer to help him remember later in court the information he had at the scene, such as your CDL number, name, date of birth, etc…
A traffic ticket does have the actual notice to you of a scheduled court date where you will be responsible for entering a plea to the ticket. At that time you can plead guilty and pay the fine; you can plead no contest and pay the fine; or you can plead not guilty and either have a hearing or set a date for a hearing.
Since a traffic ticket is a criminal matter, the officer can take you into custody or release you. When you sign the ticket you are promising to either appear or resolve this matter with the court and then you are released on your own recognizance. By signing the ticket you are NOT pleading guilty, you are only acknowledging receipt of the notice of your court date. The exception to this rule is New Mexico where the guilty plea closes the case. Make sure you do not sign on the “guilty” line in New Mexico unless you really want to be guilty.
You are free to refuse to sign the ticket, and often the officer will just note on the ticket your refusal to sign. Your refusal does not change your court date or your obligation to resolve the matter with the judge. Your refusal to sign the ticket, depending upon your attitude, may result in the officer taking you to the police station.
How is COVID-19 Impacting the Courts and hearings?
As I mentioned in my last article, everything has changed since COVID – 19. Quite simply, the new norm is something along the lines of chaos.
As you know, courts across the country initially began suspending jury trials, pushing back court dates and prohibiting “in person” hearings. While most courts are still taking these steps a few courts have begun conducting remote or telephonic hearings.
Of course with any change there is a bit of a learning curve and some courts are taking different paths than others. In some courts you call in and the court will call you back when your case has been called. Unfortunately, this can take a while.
I have seen other courts assign counsel and defendants specific call in numbers where they call in and are in a “virtual” room with the officer/prosecutor who wrote the ticket or is prosecuting the case to allow for the parties to discuss the matter. The issue with the “virtual” rooms is that they are often crowded as all the defendants are in the room at the same time and it can be difficult to ascertain which defendant is speaking. The upside with this scenario is that there will be several officers/prosecutors working a court’s docket and this allows the most cases to be addressed simultaneously. In other words, all the officers/prosecutors are working to resolve cases at the same time. Of course, the judge is brought in at the appropriate time or if resolution can’t be reached short of a trial.
Another thing to keep in mind with remote/telephonic hearings is that you will need to submit your evidence to the court ahead of time. For example, if you received a citation for no insurance and you have since acquired proof of insurance at the time of the citation, you will need to submit that to the court before the hearing. You can’t simply tell an officer/prosecutor that you have it if you are on a conference call. They will need to be able to see and confirm that it says what you claim it says.
All in all the courts are doing the absolute best they can to keep up with the dockets and still provide everyone with their day in court. These are just difficult times for which most were not prepared.
As I have said before, at the end of the day I think everyone needs to exhibit a little patience. Patience with the courts as they adopt this new reality. Patience with each other. Patience with the drivers. Patience with enforcement. We are in new territory here and hopefully we will all come out the other side with a little more understanding and appreciation for each other.
Brad Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers. Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.
800-333-DRIVE (3748) or www.interstatetrucker.com