Articles Posted in Traffic Infractions

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We recently posted an article about how police in Jacksonville and throughout Florida are emphasizing DUI stops and arrests more than ever. It is important for people to know their rights when they are stopped by a police officer who believes he/she may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A guilty or no contest plea to DUI in Florida brings about very serious consequences from a prolonged license suspension to significant fines and the possibility of a jail sentence. For that reason, if you have been stopped for a possible DUI or arrested for DUI in the Jacksonville area, consider immediately contacting a DUI attorney in Jacksonville with the experience to properly handle your DUI case.

We also came across a recent article in the Jacksonville news that said Jacksonville is the worst speed trap city in Florida. Of course, a speeding ticket is nowhere near as serious as a DUI. In Florida, a DUI is a misdemeanor crime that carries serious penalties. If a person gets a third DUI, the state has the option of charging him/her with a felony that carries up to five years in prison. A speeding ticket is a civil infraction for which a person can be fined, although that fine can be fairly high depending on the difference between the person’s speed and the speed limit. Additionally, with a speeding ticket and other traffic infractions, points can be assessed on a person’s driver’s license if the traffic citation results in a conviction. If a person gets too many points in a certain period of time or fails to properly deal with the traffic citation, that could result in a suspended license. If a person gets stopped for driving with a suspended license, he/she will likely be arrested for the crime of driving with a suspended license which is a misdemeanor crime and, like a DUI charge, can be upgraded to a felony crime in Florida once a person accumulates enough driving with a suspended license convictions.

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Florida gives out more speeding tickets than any other state, according to a recent article at referring to a study done by the National Motorist Association. Georgia is second. The Florida state trooper interviewed for the article indicated that they do not specifically target speeders, but we have written on this blog about how states will step up enforcement of traffic tickets to raise money, particularly when economic times are bad.

When a person gets a ticket for speeding or another moving violation, it can affect him/her in various ways. First, there is a fine that goes along with any traffic ticket. If the judge adjudicates the person guilty for the traffic violation, points will be added to the person’s driving record. Insurance companies see these points and may raise insurance rates. Additionally, if a person accumulates too many points in a specific period of time, the DMV will suspend his/her driving privileges.

We receive calls from people who have received various traffic citations. We can schedule a hearing and request that the judge reduce the fine and/or withhold adjudication on the violation so no points are added to the driving record. If successful, a person can avoid the risk of a license suspension and increased insurance premiums that go along with points on a driving record.

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Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a bill into law that allows cities and counties in Florida to have red light cameras as a way to enforce traffic laws. The cameras are set up at various intersections and take a picture of the vehicles and license tags when drivers run red lights at those intersections. Citations with the fines for those violations are then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Prior to this bill, Florida neither allowed nor prohibited such cameras, but the DOT did not allow red light cameras at intersections on state roads. Fifty counties and cities already have these red light cameras in place. The new law provides that a ticket for running a red light caught on camera would cost $158.

It is not surprising that Florida is approving of this law now. Revenue from the red light camera citations is estimated to be as much as $100 million for Florida by 2014 at a time when all states are struggling to raise money.

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We have read several articles on the Internet about police and Florida Highway Patrol officers stepping up efforts to stop people speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (aka drunk driving, DUI and DWI) in the Jacksonville, Florida area this weekend. Keep in mind that police come out in force on such holiday weekends and make many more traffic stops and arrests than on an ordinary weekend.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when a police officer suspects you of driving under the influence, every question he/she asks and everything he/she does from that point forward will be designed to obtain evidence against you to support the DUI case. For some reason, a lot of people think it is a good idea to answer questions about whether he/she has had anything to drink that night and if so, how many drinks. Unless the answer is zero, answering this question will only serve to help the state prove the DUI case against you. The same goes for the field sobriety tests. A person fails the DUI field sobriety tests when the police officer says so. It is a subjective test. And this is the same police officer who already has it in his/her head that you are drunk or he/she would not have asked you to perform the field sobriety tests in the first place.

Obviously, the best plan is to either not drink or get a ride with a friend or a taxi if you have been drinking. But, if you have been pulled over and the police officer is asking questions relating to a DUI or any other crime, understand that you have a Constitutional right to remain silent. If you decide to waive that right and answer questions, your answers will be used against you.

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This year, the Florida legislature will be reviewing a proposed bill that would set statewide standards for cameras at intersections that take pictures of the license plates of vehicles that run red lights. Once the picture is taken of a vehicle that allegedly ran a red light, a traffic ticket is automatically mailed to the owner of the vehicle. Legislation regarding standards for red light cameras have been before the Florida legislature several times before, but they have not been able to agree on how to split the revenues.

We see a few problems with red light cameras. First, the ticket goes to the owner of the vehicle, but it is not clear what happens when the owner is not the person driving the vehicle when it goes through a red light. Does the state or county have to prove that the owner was driving or does the owner have to prove that he/she was not driving?

Additionally, as criminal defense lawyers, we represent many people who have been charged with the crime of driving with a suspended license. This can be a serious crime that results in jail time and a longer driver’s license suspension if a person gets multiple convictions. Many people have their licenses suspended without knowing it and do not find out until they are stopped by the police. If a vehicle owner is sent a ticket but does not receive it because it got lost in the mail or he/she changed addresses, that person may have his/her license suspended without knowing it. One could see how the system does not function properly resulting in a lot of people facing potential driving with a suspended license charges without knowing it until they are stopped by police and arrested.

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A new proposed law is going to the Governor that would allow police officers in Florida to pull drivers over for failing to wear their seat belts. Of course, it is already a violation of the traffic laws for a person to drive without wearing his/her seat belt. However, it is currently considered a secondary violation, as opposed to a primary violation. If a violation is considered secondary, a police officer cannot stop a driver based on that violation alone; the officer can only ticket the driver for a secondary violation if the police officer has probable cause to believe the driver committed a primary violation first, such as speeding or running a red light.

Under the new law, a police officer can stop a driver and give him/her a traffic ticket for the seat belt violation alone. What implications does this have for criminal defense lawyers? Failing to wear a seat belt is not a criminal offense; it is a civil infraction, and this new law will not change that. However, as criminal defense attorneys know, traffic violations are often the starting point for criminal investigations into drug crimes and gun crimes. Police in Jacksonville, Florida and other parts of Florida will pull a driver over that they consider suspicious and use a traffic infraction as the basis for the stop. The police officer will then proceed to ask questions and initiate an investigation looking for illegal drugs or guns or other evidence of criminal activity. This new law may give police officers another basis to stop drivers who are driving appropriately but are not wearing their seat belts.

Of course, any time a police officer pulls a driver over and conducts a search for drugs, guns or other evidence, criminal defense lawyers will look closely into whether the police officer had a legal basis to stop the vehicle and conduct the search. But be aware that, assuming this law passes, there is one more good reason to wear your seat belt.

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What is the purpose of police giving traffic tickets to drivers? To encourage people to drive safely or to make money for the local government? Many people in Jacksonville, Florida and other cities have suspected that the police are supposed to issue a certain number of traffic tickets a month or year. These requirements are referred to as quotas and would suggest that revenue plays a major role in how many traffic tickets police give to drivers.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis looked at the correlation between poor economic conditions and the issuance of traffic tickets. Not surprisingly, the study found that significantly more tickets are issued in years after which a city’s revenue has declined. Specifically, the study found that a 10% decrease in revenue growth for the government in the prior year results in a 6.4% increase in the growth rate of traffic tickets. The study concluded that police give traffic tickets as a means of generating revenue rather than as a tool to increase driver safety on the roads.

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Florida is one of twenty states that has proposed legislation that would make it illegal to drive while talking on a handheld cell phone. Florida legislators cite evidence and articles suggesting that when a driver is talking on his/her cell phone, it can be as distracting and dangerous as a person driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. There are currently five states that have enacted a law banning handheld cell phone use while driving. Other states are also considering derivations of this law to ban driving while using a text message device and/or a hands free cell phone device.

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Most people are familiar with Miranda warnings which warn a suspect that, among other things, he/she has a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney before the police ask him/her questions about suspected criminal activity. If the police are required to give those Miranda warnings and do not and then ask questions of a suspect, the suspect’s answers will likely be inadmissible at the criminal trial. However, it is not always clear when the police are required to give Miranda warnings. For instance, are the police required to give the Miranda warnings to a suspect during a routine traffic stop before the officer asks the suspect questions about a possible crime? It depends on the circumstances.

For instance, consider a situation that occurred near Jacksonville, Florida that involved two people racing their vehicles, which is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. A police officer observed the race and pulled both vehicles over. He questioned both drivers, and they both admitted to racing. Both drivers were then given notices to appear in court to answer to criminal charges for racing. The police officer did not give the Miranda warnings to the drivers before asking them questions about the suspected racing crime.

The criminal defense lawyers tried to have those statements thrown out of court because the defendants were not given their Miranda warnings before being asked about the racing. The criminal defense lawyers were not successful. Whether a police officer needs to give Miranda warnings before asking investigative questions of a suspect depends on the nature of the encounter between the police officer and suspect. If it reasonably appears to the suspect that he/she is in custody or is under such pressure that his/her right to remain silent seems compromised, the police officer must give Miranda warnings before questioning the suspect about a crime. However, this is a fairly gray area. Some of the factors that determine whether a suspect is “in custody” are: the length of time of the questioning, the number of police officers involved in the encounter, whether the suspect is handcuffed, placed in the police car or otherwise moved to a different location and whether the suspect was searched. If some of these factors are present, the defendant likely has a good argument that he/she should have been given Miranda warnings prior to questioning and any answers he gave about any criminal activity are inadmissible in court. If, as in the racing case referenced above, the police encounter is more consistent with a normal traffic stop that is fairly brief and involves only a few questions while the suspect has not been constrained in any way, there is a good possibility that any answers he/she gives to police questioning could be used against him/her in court even if no Miranda warnings were given.

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Most people in Jacksonville and throughout Florida know that it is against the law to drive a vehicle without wearing a seat belt. A violation of this law typically results in a traffic ticket and a fine. It is also fairly common knowledge that many criminal investigations and arrests are initiated after a Jacksonville police officer pulls a car over for a traffic violation and then suspects that a crime is being committed by the driver such as a DUI (aka driving under the influence or DWI) or some type of drug possession.

However, what is not commonly known in Jacksonville and throughout Florida is that while it is illegal to drive without wearing the seat belt, a police officer may not pull a driver over for that reason alone. A seat belt violation is referred to as a secondary offense, which means that a police officer may only give a driver a ticket for that offense after the officer has stopped the driver for a different, primary offense, such as speeding or careless driving. As a result, under the current law, the fact that a driver is not wearing his/her seat belt cannot be used as a basis to pull a driver over and initiate a more serious criminal investigation into a crime such as a DUI or drug possession.

Florida lawmakers are proposing to change this law to make a seat belt violation a primary offense. If they are successful, police officers will have the authority to pull drivers who they have reason to believe are not wearing their seat belts. This would hopefully lead to fewer injuries and deaths resulting from accidents but would also likely lead to more DUI and drug arrests.