A Return to ASK THE ATTORNEY
You know, the official “title” of this column is “Ask the Attorney.” The title is a tad bid misleading as many of the articles I have written don’t follow that Q & A format. Instead, I may write about current issues in the industry that I think should be discussed or trends I am noticing. I fully understand that nobody wants to hear an attorney simply ramble on about things all the time so this week I thought I would mix it up and go back to a Q & A format. Below are some questions I get asked on an almost daily basis and the answers!
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. (EXCEPTION IS NEW MEXICO where the guilty plea closes the case. Make sure you do not sign guilty 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.
I received a ticket in the mail for an accident that I was not involved in. Can they do that? How can I protect myself from people that just want to collect money from me or my company?
Yes, they can do that. It is not uncommon for a truck driver to receive a ticket in the mail when the officer thinks the driver was involved in an accident and drove off without stopping.
Once a complaint has been made, then the officer is required to investigate the claim. The officer will have the defendant and the passengers in the damaged car to tell him what happened. The officer may issue a citation based upon the damaged vehicle and/or the defendant and the witnesses’ statements. If the officer does issue a citation, then you will have to defend yourself from the charges.
In the event of a trial, the witness will have to take the stand and your attorney will be able to cross examine the defendant to determine if they are telling the truth or just looking for cash. One way to cross-examine the witness is to seek specific details about the crash, the damage to your truck, truck color, roadway, etc… Remember, neither the officer nor the judge was at the accident. They are relying upon the testimony of all the witnesses to determine what happened. If the government can’t prove you caused the accident beyond a reasonable doubt, then you must be found not guilty.
I have a ticket that I have not paid and the judge has issued a warrant for my arrest. What can I do to not get arrested?
The judge has a warrant for your arrest because you failed to pay your fines and court costs or you have failed to appear before the judge for the original court date. The only way to solve this situation is to appear before the judge to resolve both the original ticket and the arrest warrant issue. It is better to do this voluntarily than to be arrested and taken before the judge. It is also wise to call the court and see how much money they say you owe for both the ticket and the arrest warrant. Take that amount of money with you to court so you can clear this whole issue at one time. The longer you wait to resolve this matter usually causes your fines, costs and assessments to increase. So make it the most important thing on your list of things to do, get this matter behind you.
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