My "OTHER" Practice
For those of you who don’t know me, or have not figured it out yet, my firm defends CDL drivers with traffic citations. Most days the job is pretty straight forward, a driver gets a citation and we defend him or her. Easy enough. However, there is a percentage of our practice that falls into the “other” category.
This “other” category is generally comprised of two things. First, trying to get cases reopened for drivers who forgot they had a citation, missed the court date and were found guilty. Drivers generally remember the citation about the same time that somebody pulls an MVR and asks them about it. I understand. Drivers are busy and this happens. Shoot, I have forgotten birthdays, anniversaries, to pick my kids up….lots of things. However, trying to get a case re-opened is not always the easiest thing to do. For starters, it requires that we file a Motion to Reopen. For this motion to have any chance of success, two things are required.
The motion must contain a valid reason on why the matter should be reopened. This can be more difficult than it seems. Simply saying “I forgot” is rarely good enough to satisfy a court. Something more is required. Was the notice of the hearing mailed to the wrong address? Was it received when you were on the road for an extended period of time? Did you transpose the numbers when you put it on your calendar? These MAY be a good enough reason to satisfy the court. However, there is no guarantee.
In addition, the motion needs to be filed in a timely manner. Understand that many courts require that the motion be filed within 30 days or so. However, some courts are more or less lenient. Each state sets its own rules and procedures, and anything beyond that and the courts are just generally not willing to work with you. They have closed the file and moved on and you are now asking them to jump through hoops to accommodate you on something you should have addressed earlier. Not to take sides, but I understand the court’s position.
The other part of my “other” category involves helping drivers who decided to defend themselves in a citation or who hired an attorney who does not necessarily understand CDL law. This usually takes the form of a phone call that starts with “I pulled my MVR and it shows I have a violation for XXX. I never received a citation for that, it must be a mistake.” After some research we usually discover that the driver received a citation in one state but when it was reported to his home state it was entered as something else entirely. This happens every day.
One thing that you must understand is that traffic citations are not universal. Each state gets to write their own laws and create their own violations. While some things like speeding 5 mph over are easily translated between states other things are not.
For example, we had a client who received a citation for “thoughtless operation” in South Carolina. At the time the driver received the citation he was told that it would be a zero point violation. That would have been true if the driver was licensed in South Carolina. Unfortunately, this driver was licensed in Tennessee. When the citation was reported to the good folks in Tennessee, they took a look and determined that they did not have a violation called “thoughtless operation.” Instead, they determined that “thoughtless operation” must be the same as “reckless, careless or negligent driving.” A serious violation. This is why it is critically important for you, or your attorney, to not only know the law of the state in which you got the citation but how that violation will be interpreted by your home state.
In a case like the one noted above, you have two courses of action to take. First, you call the drivers home state DMV and try to get them to amend the violation noted on the drivers MVR to something that more accurately reflects the violation in the issuing state. This is where the ulcers usually flare up. Besides waiting on hold with the DMV for an extended period of time (my personal best is just under 6 hours) you are trying to convince them to change a drivers MVR based on a violation from another state for which they have no equivalent. This is an uphill battle.
If the DMV will not modify the driver’s record then we go back to the original court and file a motion to reopen. The good news is that we at least have a compelling reason to reopen the matter. If the court reopens the matter we will try and get the citation amended to something that will play nicer with the driver’s home state. If successful, this will be submitted to the home states DMV and the appropriate changes made.
The one thing to keep in mind if you are dealing with this issue is that nothing will happen quickly. The government does not move quickly and you are asking the courts, whose dockets are full and whose staff is over worked and underpaid, to add something back onto the docket they already resolved. This is why it is critically important that you get all of this done right the first time. If you are going to defend yourself, or hire an attorney to defend you, make sure you know how your home state will interpret the violation and that the attorney knows how the citation will impact your MVR.
J. Bradley 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