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« Land of the freer | Main | Fight ME »

May 24, 2007

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Wendell Sawyer

The policy against reducing 90-plus mph speeding offenses by the DAs office in Guilford County was implemented somewhere in the mid-1990s when Jim Kimel was the District Attorney. And, the policy has remained in effect by subsequent DAs since that time.

Before then, the district attorneys in traffic court were permitted, on a case-by-case basis, to reduce the speed or amend the charge to Reckless Driving so as to prevent the one-year period of revocation that would result otherwise. Even then, the judges had to approve of the plea arrangement.

Once the DA's policy was implemented, the burden of deciding which of the high speed defendants were worthy of retaining their driver's licenses or not was shifted almost exclusively to the judges. At first, most of the judges seemed to be unsure about how to proceed with the disposition of these cases.

Then, a consensus seemed to develop among most of the judges that such defendants should attend and complete driving school before any consideration would be allowed for a PJC. Then, one judge decided that the driving school requirement was not sufficient and added an additional requirement: community service for a non-profit organization of one hour for every one mile over the speed limit (90/65=25 hours of community service). As of now, I think that all of the judges that will even consider a PJC in such cases have adopted these two requirements.

Of the twelve judges included in the link that you provided, three of them usually will not allow PJCs. The remaining nine judges may consider allowing PJCs on a case-by-case basis so long as the requirements have been met by the defendants. And, each of these judges has different threshold limits.

Recently, Guilford County gained an additional District Court Judge, Polly Sizemore. I'm not sure what her policy will be regarding this matter.

I will spare you from a rehashing of my objections to the N&O article about Judge Hunter. But, I will leave you with this thought:

If you look at the statistics, Guilford County and Judge Hunter are not exceptionally lenient in the disposition of these cases when you compare them with similar cases in the other counties. Instead, it may simply be a matter of the types of disposition (dismissals, improper equipment and speed reductions) utilized by the DAs in these other counties versus the PJCs used by the judges in Guilford. The result is the same: the prevention of a one-year license revocation by the DMV.

Ed Cone

So...it seems that by definition Hunter is more lenient than the three Guilford judges who usually won't allow PJCs in such cases.

It would be interesting to see statistics that allow a comparison between Hunter and the remaining Guilford judges.

Ed:

FYI: Usually, the judges in Guilford (especially Pete Hunter) won't allow a PJC in 90-plus mph cases if the district attorney objects in court.

Wendell Sawyer

The above post is mine.

Wendell

Bubba

The only problem with the "Speed" series is that the premise is wrong.

"Speed" by itself is never the primary reason for an accident.

Ed Cone

Never is a long time.

A more relevant conversation might concern speed as a contributing factor to accidents.

Wendell Sawyer

Speed can be a contributing factor to accidents. But, I think that you will find that folks who run red lights and stops signs may be the cause of more serious accidents, many of them involving serious injury and death, than speeders.

I think that if you ask most people, you might be surprised at the number of them who have personal knowledge about a serious motor vehicle accident that involves someone running a red light or stop sign, not speeding.

However, the motor vehicle law in North Carolina severely punishes speeders, but treats red light and stop sign offenses as minor violations.

For example, drivers who are convicted of speeding 61 mph in a 45 mph zone face a mandatory 30-day suspension of their driver's license and two insurance points (45% increase in rates for two years). However, drivers who run a stop sign and are convicted of the offense will not have to endure any revocation at all; they simply receive three driving points and one insurance point (25% increase).

Another example, drivers that are cruising down an interstate highway at 76 mph in a 55 mph zone can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor offense and, if convicted, may have their driver's licenses revoked for one year by the DMV and receive four insurance points (90% increase for 3 years). However, a driver who charges through a red light at 30 mph usually faces, if convicted, only an infraction charge of running a red light with no suspension but only three driving points and one insurance point.

What traffic offense is more dangerous and prone to cause accidents involving serious injury and/or death? Is it the guy driving down the interstate highway at 76 mph in a 55 mph zone? Or is it the guy who hurls through a red light at 40 mph?

Two of the worst accidents that I've been personally involved in were in cases involving a red light and a stop sign. In one case, I was driving down a highway with my family and a woman ran a stop sign and plowed into my vehicle. My wife lost her spleen as a result of that accident. The other accident occurred downtown when a driver of a Dodge Ram truck ran a red light and crushed my Toyota.

I don't recall being in any accident where speed was a primary factor. I know that it can be, but I can't remember an incident where that may have happened to me.


Wendell Sawyer

Ed:

There were rumors buzzing around the courthouse today that Tony Rand, a state senator from Fayetteville, introduced a bill that would prohibit district attorneys from reducing speeding charges that are alleged to be 30 mph or more over the speed limit and would restrict the benefits of PJCs allowed by judges in such cases. The word is that it immediately passed the state senate by a vote of 49-1.

I've tried to confirm the rumors but I haven't been able to as yet. Do you know anything on this?

Bubba

Speed is never the primary cause of traffic accidents.

According to Vic Elford, widely considered one of the best and most versatile race drivers of all time, "Accidents are usually caused by a mistake of some sort: inattention, lack of anticipation, poor judgment, lack of awareness of what is going on around you-- all are human faults for which you are responsible."

Here's another opinion on this subject.

Key point:

"Speeding may have been involved, but it was not the cause of the accident. The driver being stupid was the cause of the accident."

"Speed" doesn't "kill".

That fact was proven when the abandonment of the national 55 mph speed limit caused speed limits to be increased. The highway fatality rate per vehicle mile on those highways with increased speed limits dropped significantly..

Here's a case study from Montana, which reflects findings of reports from AAA and others.

Jim Saintsing

I yield to Wendell’s experience-grounded analysis of which bad driving behaviors are worthy of harsher deterrence. (Although I might argue that someone going through a red light at 40 mph is speeding at a rate 40 mph over the applicable speed limit at that time and place.)

What I find interesting about this subject is how it brings out not just the libertarian, but the anarchist, in many conservatives. Apparently, speed should be governed only by natural law, not by the safety calculations of some putz traffic engineer.

I’d like to see an analysis of how many traffic accidents would not have occurred if the driver had been traveling no faster than the posted speed limit at the time he had to react. This shouldn’t be much more speculative or arbitrary an exercise than deciding, say, whether a given driver crashed mainly because he was drunk or mainly because he took the curve too fast. I’d bet a lottery ticket that often the accident would not have happened or would have resulted in less severe injuries. Does that make speed the primary or a contributing factor when the accident does happen? Who cares, the kid in the road is dead either way.

Bubba

"Apparently, speed should be governed only by natural law, not by the safety calculations of some putz traffic engineer."

If it's not calculated to the 85th percentile standard, or is set to satisfy some political or economic function, it's flat out bad policy.

Here's some background on how speed limits should be set.

Wendell Sawyer

I did get confirmation of the story that was spreading around at the courthouse.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Tony Rand did introduce a bill that would, among other things, "Prohibit drivers charged with speeding more than 30 mph over the limit from receiving an "improper equipment -- speedometer" plea deal from a district attorney or a PJC from a judge.

"Under current law, a judge may grant a PJC regardless of how fast the driver was going, or how many miles per hour over the speed limit. The same goes for an improper equipment plea."

The same article states, "Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, explained the bill in only a minute or two. There were no questions, no comments, and almost no opposition. The vote was 49-1. The bill now goes to the House, where it will be considered later in the year."

Wow, talk about "knee-jerk" reactions in an atmosphere of hysteria created by a series of articles by Pat Stith published in the N&O last week about the disposition of speeding cases in North Carolina. Good grief! The last installment was just published a few days ago.

So, the state senate decides to change state laws that have been in effect for many decades with "...no questions, no comments, and almost no opposition. The vote was 49-1." What ever happened to "deliberation?"

What's next? Pat Stith's next project might be an investigative report on the number of serious motor vehicle accidents that involve serious injuries and death as a result of red light or stop sign violations. Then, Senator Rand can quickly introduce legislation to change red light and stop sign violations from minor traffic infractions to felony offenses with mandatory jail time.

My, my, the legislature is an interesting place.

Bubba

"My, my, the legislature is an interesting place."

Oh c'mon, Wendell!

Don't you know there's NEVER any political grandstanding in Raleigh?

Wendell Sawyer

I think that most folks would be shocked to know that the state senate proceeded so rashly and so imprudently about such a significant change in state law by relying, almost exclusively, on a series of articles that appeared in the N&O just last week.

Where were the committee hearings? Were the judges, district attorneys, police officers, defense attorneys and insurance company officials provided an opportunity to be heard by legislators? Were the one-sided allegations of impropriety by the N&O on this topic so conclusive as to justify the state senate in recklessly abandoning the normal legislative procedure in processing proposed legislation?

The normal procedure for the consideration of a bill usually takes weeks or months. That process is in place for a reason; it's called "deliberation." And, it gives the different parties involved the opportunity to be heard and to respond to the alleged problems and impact such a bill may have; that is called "fairness."

I don't think that any reasonable person could claim that such a bill was given due and diligent consideration when the normal legislative rules were bypassed and a bill was so hurriedly rammed through the state senate because of four articles published in a newspaper last week. No, I think any reasonable person would claim that such hasty action by the state senate on this bill was rash, reckless and imprudent. Just imagine any deliberative, legislative body passing such a bill (introduced a few days ago) with "...no questions, no comments, and almost no opposition. The vote was 49-1."

If there are any legislators left in the General Assembly who believe in the concept of "deliberative process," they should amend the bill to refer it to a study commission so that hearings can be held and each affected party could have the opportunity to be heard.

The CA

Wendell, I am breaking my protocol of not posting on this site simply to say that if this passes, you know and I know that the court system is going to slow down much more than it already is because a lot more people will be pleading not guilty to traffic tickets and having trials. This will raise attorney fees which is good for people like us, but not so good for the public and will also create the need for more courtrooms, more police officers (as those who would be out on the street will be stuck in court testifying), more D.A.'s, and actually may result in more dismissals altogether (which would run contrary to the intent of the law) if the D.A. is unable to get the officer into court on the day of the trial.

Wendell Sawyer

Sam:

The points that you raise are important considerations. As I remember, one district attorney mentioned the same problem about more trials becoming necessary and questioned whether the legislature would provide the funding needed for additional assistant DAs to handle the addtional burden.

For example, DAs frequently reduce speeding violations for a critical reason: it prevents the court systen from being clogged up with endless trials over speeding tickets. Such trials regarding speeding tickets can consume such precious amounts of court time that they can interfere with trying the cases that DAs believe to be of supreme importance in traffic court: Driving While Impaired (DWI) cases.

As I mentioned previously, the legislature needs to conduct hearings about these proposed changes in the law. Instead of listening, almost exclusively, to a newspaper reporter's version of the problem, the legislature should listen to the people who are involved in the disposition of these cases on a daily basis: the judges, the district attorneys, the law enforcement officers, defense attorneys and the officials of the Administraive Office of the Courts.

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