Posts Tagged ‘traffic laws’

Traffic and road law roundup

  • Driver’s license suspensions, which many states use to punish unpaid court debt and other offenses unrelated to driving skill, can accelerate spiral into indigency [New York Times]
  • Your war on distracted driving: woman says she received $200 ticket “for putting on lip balm at a red light.” [KLAS Las Vegas, Nev.]
  • “Of Course We Have No Ticket Quotas, But ….” [Lowering the Bar; Edmundson, Mo., in St. Louis County; Mariah Stewart, Huffington Post on revenue generation in Berkeley, Mo., and other neighboring towns; Scott Greenfield (“Ferguson: Where Everyone’s a Criminal”)]
  • Yet more on St. Louis County: it started with a “defective muffler” stop in Florissant [Riverfront Times]
  • NYC: “Speed cameras lead to surge in tickets and $16.9M in revenue for city” [NY Daily News]
  • New Los Angeles parking signs explain it all for you, also recall design of craps table [Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing]
  • Virginia: “How Police Drones and License-Plate Readers Threaten Liberty” [A. Barton Hinkle; related, Jim Harper/D.C. Examiner]

Crime and punishment roundup

February 19 roundup

  • Sheldon Silver’s law firm reportedly loses its special status in courts [New York Post] “Ex-congresswoman could get payout from court tied to Silver” [same; former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy]
  • “High School Teacher With Fear of Young Children Loses Disability-Bias Case” [EdWeek, h/t @aaronworthing]
  • “Worth remembering that, if they had the power in the 1980s, the public health lobby would have forced us to eat a diet they now say is bad.” [Christopher Snowdon, earlier]
  • Numbers confirm that AG Eric Holder’s forfeiture reform won’t directly affect great majority of cases [Institute for Justice via Jacob Sullum, earlier]
  • Despite curiously thin evidence that they work, bans on texting while driving roll on, including Mississippi [Steve Wilson, Watchdog, thanks for quote, earlier here, etc.] Draft Ohio bill has numerous troubling features, including broad bar on future technologies, vague distraction ban, stiffer penalties without judicial discretion, mandatory court dates for minor offenses [Maggie Thurber, Ohio Watchdog, thanks for quote]
  • Cop’s defense in sex assault of teen: he “[had] money problems and a bad guy scared [him]” [Trumbull, Ct.; Scott Greenfield, Connecticut Post]
  • “Dance like no one is watching; email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.” [Olivia Nuzzi]

Police and prosecution roundup

  • Judge chides Montgomery County, Md. police for “unlawful invasion” of family’s home [my new Free State Notes post]
  • As more offenses get redefined as “trafficking,” state extends its powers of surveillance and punishment [Alison Somin on pioneering Gail Heriot dissent in U.S. Commission for Civil Rights report; Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason on legislative proposals from Sens. Portman and Feinstein] Proposal in Washington legislature would empower police to seize/forfeit cars of those arrested for soliciting prostitutes, whether or not ever convicted [Seattle Times]
  • Progressives and the prison state: “most of the intellectual and legal scaffolding of the contemporary American carceral system was erected by Democrats.” [Thaddeus Russell reviewing new Naomi Murakawa book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America]
  • Here comes the next verbal conflation with negative implications for defendants’ rights, “traffic violence” [Scott Greenfield]
  • Please don’t pay attention to what goes on inside Florida prisons, it would only spoil your day [Fred Grimm, Miami Herald via Radley Balko]
  • Trouble in California: “U.S. judges see ‘epidemic’ of prosecutorial misconduct in state” [L.A. Times, Ronald Collins/Concurring Opinions, video from Baca v. Adams with Judges Kozinski, Wardlaw, W. Fletcher, earlier on California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Moonlight Fire case] But will Ninth Circuit’s strong words change anything? [Scott Greenfield including updates]
  • “Plea Bargaining and the Innocent: It’s up to judges to restore balance” [U.S. District Judge John Kane]

“Taxation by citation”

Missouri lawmakers are discussing a bill that would discourage speed traps and excessive municipal reliance on fines by providing that revenue from traffic citations could not exceed 10 percent of a town’s revenues, down from 30 percent currently. [St. Louis Public Radio]

Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch testified in favor of Senate Bill 5 Wednesday before the senate committee on local government.

“We are not supposed to be in the business, in law enforcement, of generating revenue for the cities,” Fitch said. “I think, personally, municipal courts should be able to recover their costs, but they shouldn’t be profit generators. It’s not a business; you’re not supposed to be able to buy chairs for the mayor’s office with traffic ticket fines.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale), cited the way traffic citations can snowball with late fees, doubling or tripling of fines, arrest after missed court dates, and loss of jobs. Many towns, on the other hand, don’t want to lose the revenue:

City officials, including a few mayors such as Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy, testified against the bill.

“You have money that comes in, but it goes right back out,” Murphy said. “It goes back out to different funds that are needed … I wouldn’t want to see (the) battered women’s fund cut; I wouldn’t want to see police training cut.”

“U.S. Spies on Millions of Cars”

Per documents released in response to a FOIA request, the federal government maintains a large program using automatic license-plate readers to track vehicles in real time (not just in later investigation) and nationwide (not just near borders). The program “collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways.” The resulting photographs are “sometimes” clear enough to identify drivers or passengers. “One email written in 2010 said the primary purpose of the program was asset forfeiture.” Although the program is run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, its data is increasingly shared for investigations unrelated to drugs. [Wall Street Journal]

Forfeiture-driven law enforcement is at this point deeply embedded in our practice at both federal and local levels, and the small and ambiguous federal-level reforms announced by AG Holder earlier this month are unlikely to turn that around in themselves.

Conor Friedersdorf comments: “The DEA will obviously continue to lose the War on Drugs. We’ve traded our freedom to drive around without being tracked for next to nothing. … Unfortunately, leaders in the U.S. law enforcement community feel that they’re justified in secretly adopting sweeping new methods with huge civil liberties implications.” (cross-posted and expanded at Cato at Liberty). A different view: Jazz Shaw, Hot Air (could be useful in “managing crime,” and think of the children: unless we let government monitor our comings and goings, the throwers of little girls into vans will win). And more: They can watch your car, but as Waze flap confirms, don’t you dare watch theirs [Liz Sheld]

Update: new emails reveal plans of even wider scope, including a proposal (which DEA says was not acted on) to cooperate with BATF to track license plates of gun show attendees. The Guardian quotes me about the chilling effect systematic surveillance can have on the exercise of rights, and about the impetus for cooperation between Right and Left on reining in law enforcement use of data tracking. Note pp. 10, 27-28 of this NRA amicus brief in an ACLU mass-surveillance case. And earlier on license plate tracking here (Los Angeles FOIA), here and here (Maryland), and here (Radley Balko). And with the rapid development of onboard computer technology, our cars ourselves could soon be reporting our driving habits to the government. But that’d never happen, right? [Steven Greenhut] “Taxing Us To Spy On Us” [Chris Edwards]

In trouble, can’t drive

Nowadays driver’s license suspensions are passed out almost as freely as tickets themselves once were, yet they can often be economically and personally devastating to their targets [NPR via Brian Doherty]:

If you get caught drinking and driving in Wisconsin, and it’s your first offense, you lose your license for nine months. For a hit-and-run, the punishment is suspension for one year.

But if you don’t pay a ticket for a minor driving offense, such as driving with a broken tail light, you can lose your license for two years. …

The most common way that people lose their driver’s license in Wisconsin is not for drunken driving or other unsafe driving. It’s for failure to pay the fine on a ticket for a nonmoving traffic offense. Those make up 56 percent of all license suspensions in the state, according to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Many of the jobs that enable indigent persons to climb out of poverty call for use of a car, as with cleaning jobs, which typically require driving to the homes or offices being cleaned. Many other jobs are not near bus or mass transit lines, while in other cases the job seeker does not live near such a line. Absent an income from work, there is less hope of paying off the debt to the state. So even if one adopts the cynical view that Wisconsin makes the penalty higher for missing a ticket payment than for a hit-and-run because it is obsessed with maximizing its revenues, it’s not necessarily doing that efficiently either.

More on petty fines and fees here.

Police and prosecution roundup

  • “Shaneen Allen’s prosecutor might be having second thoughts” [Radley Balko, earlier] Sequel: Indeed.
  • “If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent …. And that’s worked well for us.” — “senior” Washington, D.C. government official [Washington Post quoting inspector general report; also includes details on traffic camera protocols]
  • Not an Onion story: Eleventh Circuit chides use of SWAT methods in Florida barber shop inspections [ABA Journal (“It’s a pretty big book, I’m pretty sure I can find something in here to take you to jail for”), Volokh, Balko, Greenfield] Militarized cop gear is bad, routinized use of SWAT tactics is worse [Jacob Sullum]
  • New England Innocence Project looking at several shaken-baby cases [Boston Herald, background]
  • Innocence commissions like North Carolina’s not a big budgetary line item as government programs go, alternatives may cost more [A. Barton Hinkle]
  • New evidence continues to emerge in Ferguson police shooting, but is nation still listening? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Prosecutors arrayed as organized pressure group is very bad idea to begin with, and more so when goal is to shrink citizens’ rights [AP on “Prosecutors Against Gun Violence”; Robert H. Jackson on prosecutors’ power and role in society]

North County St. Louis: “Why Does a City With 600 Residents Need 14 Cops?”

Perhaps because it uses police for revenue collection rather than public safety. Last year the tiny town of Beverly Hills issued six traffic tickets and two ordinance violations for each resident. An investigation of the string of towns that includes Ferguson, Mo. finds heavy reliance on speed cameras and intensive traffic enforcement on sometimes-tiny stretches of road, oversized police forces, various anecdotes of assault and misconduct, and, in the case of the town of Edmundson, Mo., a memo from the mayor in April 2014 ordering the writing of more tickets. [Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News; earlier]