Open Road Drivers Plan features a nationwide network of CDL attorneys that work hard every day to keep drivers’ CDLs clean and on the road. Houston-based attorney, Pat Monks of Monks Law Firm, is a part of the ORDP CDL attorney network and is author of CDL Citation Chat, answering real questions from real drivers about trucking related law questions. In this installment we look at Level 1, 2, & 3 inspections, getting a ticket in a rural area, and the importance of reading your citation before signing it
Question: I was recently pulled over for failure to yield and it seemed like the officer issuing the citation was asking question after question, trying to see if he could write additional citations. Does this type of thing happen or am I imaging things?
This is normal. What’s abnormal is if no questions are asked at all. Your response is based on two different scenarios. The first scenario involves you driving your normal everyday non-commercial vehicle? In this case, a street cop (Not DOT certified) may be issuing a ticket looking for other violations. Your certainly have the right to remain silent and request an attorney which triggers your 6th Amendment rights to counsel.
Be careful here, you might be harassed for acting in this manner. I would recommend answering the questions and not embellishing your answers. Too many times, drivers think they can talk their way out of a ticket. The trick is really not to be memorable. If the officer is going to write you, he is going to write you to maintain his work efficiency quota. However, the officer might not announce ready for trial in your case. This will result in a dismissal on the citations. But give the officer a hard time, or try to be Mr. Personality, he will remember you very well for trial.
The second scenario deals with you driving a commercial vehicle when you are stopped by a DOT certified officer. Here the officer has the right to conduct any number of level inspections. A Level Three inspection is the least intrusive inspection and deals with the trooper making a brief inspection of the vehicle. This may be followed by an inquiry into the driver’s authority to drive and an inspection of your log book. This level inspection takes place at an initial traffic stop. Here the trooper can ask any number of questions and has the right to make a stop with little or no probable cause for the inspection alone. My advice, keep it simple and keep it short. Don’t blow up at the officer or you may be entertaining a Level Three inspection that could put you out of service.
A Level Two inspection is a bit more intense. The trooper makes an inspection by walking around the vehicle, and inspects all paper work including log book, any manifest schedule, bills of lading, delivery instructions, medical cab card, and any other items the driver is required to maintain. At this level the officers makes a quick look under the truck, inspects the tire trend measurements, and examine the air brakes. These levels of inspections take place at and during weigh scale inspection.
Finally, a Level One inspection is the most intrusive inspection. Here the trailer is weighed. The inspector examines under the tractor and trailer. The individual axels are weighed and the cargo is inspected. A Level One could call for a vehicle to be put out of service if there are gross violations on the truck, trailer, or the driver. If the driver is impaired and alcohol is detected on his breath, the tractor will be placed out of service. The bottom line is if the officer is asking more and more questions with an inspection of a Commercial vehicle, he has that right to do so and he may write you more violations. Your cooperation is gold. The officer has the option of writing citations for court, or warnings. With the Federal rule change in August of 2015, it’s possible to contest criminal citations through DataQ if the criminal citations are dismissed, or reduced, but this new rule doesn’t apply to warnings. Warning carry points on your CSA just like citations.
We have found that more citations and warnings are given on Level Three inspections at a traffic stop. My recommendation: if you are stopped, be organized and cooperative in providing these documents for the officers inspection. Make the trooper’s job simple by being pleasant and cooperative. You will receive fewer citations and warning.
Question: I was traveling through New Mexico Where I was issued a ticket for speeding. The LEO told me I had to sign the ticket, which I did without reading it. I later found out that the fine print on the ticket declared that by signing it, I was admitting my guilt. Is there anything I can do?
Most jurisdictions do not have a procedure that allows the officer issuing the ticket to take a plea and payment in the field. These systems have obvious constitutional problem. Whereas, the concept of separation of powers is clearly violated. Here the executive branch (represented by the officer) is conducting a function of the Judicial branch (The court). However, in those states that have decriminalized traffic tickets, this procedure is constitutional. Administrative civil proceedings do not have the same constitutional scrutiny as criminal proceedings. Therefore, States that still consider traffic offenses as criminal cases will not have procedures that allow for an officer to accept a plea and payment at the time of the stop.
Nevertheless, the question begs the question of when did the driver read the ticket after signing? How much time past from the signing to discovering the mistake? The U.S. constitution requires due process of law in all cases. Therefore, there is a review process of the case. The question is whether or not there is time to file a motion to vacate the order or not; the time frame for filing an appeal on any case range anywhere from 30 days to 1 day depending on the jurisdiction.
By signing the document without counsel or due process, the driver clearly has a case to vacate the order and obtain a new trail setting. This is very similar to someone else paying another’s fine as the case is pending. The constitution clearly requires due process when accepting a voluntary plea. Taking a plea by mistake on the side of the road is anything but voluntary. The solution in this situation is to contact Open Road Drivers Plan immediately upon discovering this mistake. You will be put in contact with an attorney from that jurisdiction ASAP. You have no time to waste if this occurs.
Question: I was ticketed for 70/55 truck speed zone in Anderson County, TN. No priors in 10 years of having a CDL. Does a driver’s record help in getting a ticket reduced?
Absolutely, especially in a rural community in Tennessee. In a small county, the prosecutor answers to the voters. They have several options to cure a problem. Most small counties do not have the time or money to prosecute traffic offenses to the full extent of the law and they don’t have the mechanism, the court time, or overtime to provide for prosecutions of CDL drivers. Many rural counties have created their own mechanism through pretrial diversion, or amending complaints that would provide a remedy for the State and the driver while reducing the costs of processing the ticket. In other words, yes providing a good driving record has a lot of influence with the prosecutor who could decline to prosecute, or entertain a solution that would keep the points off the driver’s record.
ABOUT PAT MONKS
Pat Monks has been an active leader and participant in the legal plan industry for over 20 years. He’s a published speaker for the industry and currently serves as president for the GLSA, and has sat with the board of directors since 2009. Mr. Monks was the charter member and founder of the Municipal Justice Bar Association of Texas and is also a member of the ABA GP Solo section of the ABA and State Bar of Texas. Mr. Monks also serves as a board member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death penalty and attends the CPAC conference each year as a member of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, which is part of the Equal Justice USA. He remains very active with his local bar association, and serves as an election judge in Clear Lake, Texas. Legal view points and opinions mentioned in this article are his and do not constitute legal advice from either the author or Open Road Drivers Plan. The content contained in this article is for informational & educational purposes only.