Jeffrey Rich Blog

Posts tagged ‘Tampa traffic attorney’

Too often people get pulled over, officer friendly issues any number of citations, people let the citations sit around for a awhile then on about the 29 day after the citation was issued people either over-night the check to the clerk of the court, or elect the traffic school. People don’t pay attention to the citation, or more importantly the specific statute the officer friendly wrote on the citation.

Case in point:

Defendant driver was travelling on east on 2-lane road. The defendant driver approached a 4-way stop. As he approached the 4-way stop no other vehicle were present. Like so many people before, the defendant rolled through the stop sign without coming to complete stop. Just as defendant driver was rolling through the stop sign, officer friendly was traveling north towards the same intersection. Officer friendly witnessed the defendant driver fail to stop at the stop sign. He flipped on his light and conducted a traffic stop. He approached the vehicle asking the standard questions and before defendant driver had a chance to even blink he was handed a citation.

The defendant felt like most people: “I got caught; I should have stopped at the stop sign”. The defendant let the ticket sit around for a few weeks before thinking about what to do with it. The defendant was not eligible for the traffic school because he had already taken the class within the last 12 months. He decided to call an attorney to see if there was any way to defend the ticket. After consulting with Tampa traffic attorney Jeff Rich he was informed that he was absolutely guilty for running the stop sign and there was no defense for that traffic infraction. However, the attorney informed the defendant that there was great defense to the citation. Traffic Attorney Rich went on to explain that the statute that the officer wrote on the citation was for failing to yield the right away at a four way stop. Since there were no other vehicles at the four-way stop at the time he rolled through the stop sign, he was not guilty of the statute the officer wrote on the citation. He was absolutely guilty of running the stop sign, but that was not what he was charged with.

Attorney Rich set the case for a hearing. At the hearing the officer was present and presented his case. He testified that he witnessed the defendant driving the vehicle and “blow through the stop sign”. At no point in his testimony did he indicate that there were any other vehicles present at the stop sign. The defendant also testified that there were no other vehicles coming in any of the other directions into the intersection. At the conclusion of the testimony the attorney argued that no evidence was presented that there were any other vehicle in the other 3 directions, therefore it was legally impossible for the defendant to be guilty of the infraction that he was cited for. The failure to yield statute requires that a vehicle must yield to another vehicle that arrives at a four way stop first. Without any evidence of another vehicle there was nothing to yield to. Attorney Rich conceded that the defendant was absolutely guilty of running the stop sign, but that was not what he was cited for. The Judge agreed and the defendant was found NOT GUILTY for failing to yield.

So take a lesson from this case: just because you are GUILTY does not necessarily mean you are GUILTY (at least of the citation that you are cited for). Always consult a Tampa traffic attorney on your case!

So you’re whizzing down the interstate and as you crest a hill you see a State Trooper on the side of the road, outside of his or her car, talking to a civilian who has been pulled over. Traffic is thick as you approach the Trooper and you seemingly have nowhere to go. What to do, what to do??? It would be wise to do one of two things to avoid getting yourself a ticket accompanied by a tongue lashing.

1) Move over. Get in the farthest lane possible away from the officer to avoid any potential tragedy.

2) If you can’t move over, slow down. You must drop AT LEAST 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.

What many Florida drivers don’t know is that Florida has a law that requires the above recommendations. Under Florida Statute 316.126(1)(b), if one does not do one of the above, they can be issued a civil traffic infraction and have points assessed against their driving record. A variation of this law has been in effect in other states for years with Florida recently adopting this.

So, when you encounter a situation as above or when there is any emergency vehicle on the side of the road, do the person on the side of the road a favor and save yourself some money and move over. For more information on what to do if you are pulled over, or other traffic ticket issues, contact a Tampa traffic attorney at The Law Office of Jeffrey M. Rich today: 813-251-3330.

We’ve all seen “The Fast and the Furious” and quickly fallen in love with the speed and adrenaline Paul Walker and Vin Diesel provide as they make their hopped up power wagons do things that are seemingly impossible. Consequently, movies like this inspired thousands of people to buy a similar car and do their best to emulate Pauly Walnuts and Vinnie D as they zing down Tampa Bay’s highways. As this practice evolved, illegal drag strips were established and through word of mouth people became familiar with where and when to go in order to see these rocket ships on wheels fly up and down the road. Like any other red blooded American male, I have to agree that the spectacle these cars provide is entertaining, if not amazing. Clearly, I am not alone.

To many spectators’ surprise and dismay, as recently as a week ago St. Petersburg local police departments organized two stings in which they blocked off any reasonable method for escape and cited and/or arrested several people racing and observing the racing that occurred near Fourth Street North. Obviously the individuals that were participating in the actual racing were either cited or arrested for “Racing on the Highway,” a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of not less than $500 but not more than $1000. Equally as punitive is the fact that if a plea is entered to this charge, be it an adjudication of guilt or a withhold of adjudication, the defendant will receive a 1 year driver’s license revocation by the department of motor vehicles.

It was the spectators of the racing that likely received the biggest surprise of the evening, however. Despite never getting behind a wheel of one of the cars or even so much as kicking a tire, any spectator in attendance could be and likely was given a civil traffic infraction with the prospect of receiving 3 points on their driving record. According to Florida Statute 316.191, a “Spectator” means any person who is knowingly present at and views a drag race, when such presence is the result of an affirmative choice to attend or participate in the race. For purposes of determining whether or not an individual is a spectator, finders of fact shall consider the relationship between the racer and the individual, evidence of gambling or betting on the outcome of the race, and any other factor that would tend to show knowing attendance or participation. In English, if you are there to watch the racing, you can get a ticket.

Fair? As a Tampa criminal lawyer, that’s not my call. Clearly Florida’s Legislature has made this recent “spectator” addition in a policy effort to prevent people from showing up at the drag strip. They likely are assuming if we can cut out the fans, then the players won’t bother playing the game. Will this policy effort work? Probably not, as any policy decision to dissuade American’s from doing something they are hell bent on doing, typically works about as well as creating a lead airplane.

So, if you find yourself in the precarious situation of being charged with racing, or merely being a spectator at a race, it would behoove you to investigate the prospect of hiring an attorney well versed in traffic law. Nobody wants a criminal record, and for damn sure nobody wants to lose their license for a year. Less serious, but still significant, it’s not a good idea to allow points to accumulate on your driving record either. If you get too many in too short a time, you can also watch your driving privilege race away. Further, once your insurance company catches wind of the points on your license you can bank on your buddies at State Farm or that Geico lizard raising those rates.

Bottom line, be careful if you choose to race or watch illegal racing. Officer friendly generally gets his man, and their pretty good at what they do around here. But, if you do get saddled with a race related charge, pick up the phone and give us a call. As experienced traffic and misdemeanor attorneys in Tampa, we might just save your license.

Buckle Up and Shut Up

June 23rd, 2009

Just when you thought it couldn’t be any easier for Police in Florida to detain automobile drivers in an effort to ferret out crime, guess what?  Starting June 30, 2009 Florida will put into effect a new law which will allow the Police to cite an individual for driving without a seatbelt on, even if no other violations are cited.  Prior to this law the Police could issue a civil citation for failure to wear a seat belt, but could not use this violation as reason to stop a motorist.  With the June 30th change, FL will join 27 other states in classifying this law as a “primary seatbelt law” allowing stops for no other reason but for a lack of a seatbelt being worn by a driver or passenger.

Prior to this law going into effect, an officer had to develop probable cause to pull one over for a civil traffic infraction.  This premise was laid out in Whren v. US, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), where the court said that if an officer has probable cause to stop a motorist for even a minor traffic violation, the stop is lawful and the evidence obtained afterwards as a result of the stop is admissible in court.  Thus, even if an officer may have suspected that a criminal activity was occurring, if an officer “could stop” the vehicle for a minor traffic infraction he would have just cause to stop that vehicle and potentially further investigate the suspected crime.  The Whren decision essentially eliminated any real likelihood of a traffic stop being invalid as being pretextual as now all an officer had to do was note that he “could stop” the motorist for a traffic infraction. 

In addition to making a traffic stop for probable cause for a traffic infraction, an officer could detain a motorist if there is a well founded and an articulated rationale that there is reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.  Thus, if an officer believes someone is committing a crime in a vehicle, can articulate his reason why he thinks so, and his suspicion is reasonable, he can detain a vehicle for investigatory purposes.   

So, what are the potential criminal implications with this new “primary seatbelt law?”  Basically, an officer can pull a motorist over he believes is committing a crime if all he has as a reason for a stop is that he notices that person not wearing a seatbelt.  While making contact with the driver he may detect certain things that lead him further to believe that criminal activity is going on and thus he may inquire.  Whereas before a motorist may dodge a bullet in that an officer may not be able to develop probable cause that a traffic infraction has occurred or reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, all the officer needs now is to notice a lack of a seatbelt and he has his lawful reason for a stop and avoids any reasonable possibility that his stop could be deemed pretextual.  In essence, deciding not to wear a seatbelt could act as probable cause to be detained.  This detainment could lead to more serious charges should the motorist be up to no good. 

Moral of the story you ask?  If you’ve had a little too much to drink or have just paid a visit to one of Pablo Escobar’s associates, buckle up and if pulled over, shut up.  Nothing you say to the officer is going to do you any favors.  The Police aren’t in the business of “helping you out” or “cutting you a break.”  If you run your yap, what you say WILL be used against you later down the road.  I’ve never met an officer or a prosecutor that didn’t love a defendant that was a chatterbox.  A simple click could very well be the difference in you making it home, or making it to one of Florida’s finest vacation destinations — with a DUI or other felony charge.  So, put the belt on.  It could very well save your life or even a trip to jail.

Fast? And the Furious Cop!

Looks like Vin and Paul are at it again in another version of “Fast and Furious!”  Vin is back in the classic lumbering muscle car, while Paul chooses the highly modified import that sounds like a lawn mower.  Admittedly, and embarrassingly, I am a fan of the “Fast and the Furious” series when Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are behind the wheel.  Without a doubt, just as they did last go around, this movie will inspire many to modify their Honda Civics and soup up their Subarus and join the nearest street racing club.  Also, without a doubt, folks will be eager to test out their modifications to their cars and motorcycles, only to have a chance encounter with Officer Friendly who is not so appreciative of their new super deluxe exhaust install…  So, while Mr. Diesel and Pauly Walnuts may be racing, ramping, and popping wheelies in their rides without consequence, what happens when you or I get in our sensible family sedan and run em’ down Kennedy? 

If we’re lucky, and we haven’t made officer Friendly too angry (or he thinks it’s impossible that our car could actually be capable of “racing”) he will either cite us under Florida Statute 316.1925 for Careless Driving or 316.192 for Reckless Driving.  Careless driving is considered a civil traffic citation, not requiring a court appearance.  According to the Statute, one drives carelessly when fail to operate their car on the streets or highways of Florida in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.  Receiving a Careless Driving citation in a “racing” situation is likely your best case scenario.

If Officer Friendly is mad, but not completely blown, he may cite you for Reckless Driving.  Reckless Driving is when you are driving any vehicle in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.  Reckless, unlike Careless Driving is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine for the first conviction and up to 6 months in jail and up to a $1000 fine for a subsequent violation.  Does this sound good?  No.  It’s a crime, but it is much the lesser of the two evils when comparing Reckless Driving and Racing on the Highway crimes.

If you’re popping wheelies, and ramping your car down Kennedy with your competition close by, you’re most assuredly going to either be arrested for Racing or at least issued a Notice to Appear to answer for your fast and furious behavior.  The officer will cite you for Racing if he witnesses you, “drive any motor vehicle, including any motorcycle, in any race, speed competition or contest, drag race or acceleration contest, test of physical endurance, or exhibition of speed or acceleration or for the purpose of making a speed record on any highway, roadway, or parking lot; in any manner participate in, coordinate, facilitate, or collect moneys at any location for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; Knowingly ride as a passenger in any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; or purposefully cause the movement of traffic to slow or stop for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition.”  Racing is considered a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 11 months 29 days in jail.  So, realistically what makes Racing a harsher offense than Reckless Driving?  Section 316.191(2)(a) commands the department of motor vehicles to revoke your driver’s license for one year if convicted.  Even if one gets a withhold of adjudication their driver’s license will be suspended.  In my experience, the driver’s license suspension is the hang up with former clients.

So, what do you do if you get caught and charged with Racing?  Given the fact that Racing is a first degree misdemeanor with possible jail time, and considering the driver’s license suspension, it is of utmost importance to hire a traffic attorney who understands how to defend a Racing charge.

Within the last 2 months our Tampa Criminal Lawyers have represented several clients charged with Racing.  Of the clients who’s cases have been closed, all were reduced to Reckless Driving, thus avoiding a driver’s license suspension, and none serving any jail time.  Currently there is a District Court of Appeal conflict with regard to the Racing Statute.  The 4th DCA in State v. Wells, 965 So.2d 834 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008), found the current Racing statute to be vague both on its face and as applied to Wells.  Further Wells found it necessary to include an element of competition in its definition of race.  However, the 1st DCA in State v. Reaves, found the current Racing Statute to be Constitutional.  What in the heck does this mean to you?  Basically right now Florida’s trial courts can choose which DCA opinion to follow.  If they adopt the Wells holding, they will dismiss a Racing charge if your attorney files a motion to dismiss.  The state can still potentially file a reckless driving charge, but again, this is the better of the two evils.  If they follow Reaves, your row will be much more difficult to hoe as a motion to dismiss will not be granted, citing Reaves.

Eventually Florida’s Supreme Court will settle the conflict between the 1st and 4th District Courts of Appeal and potentially a new version of the Racing Statute will be put in place.  It is imperative that you contact a Tampa misdmeanor attorney to see how the courts in your jurisdiction are interpreting the Racing statute.  If you are in a Wells following DCA, it may be to your benefit to resolve your case soon.  It is possible that the Supreme Court may find the current Racing statute to be constitutional, thereby weakening your chances for a charge reduction to Reckless Driving.

If you’ve been charged with Racing on the Highway, it would benefit you greatly to contact an Tampa traffic lawyer capable and experienced with Racing cases.  Losing your full driving privilege could be potentially devastating to your livelihood, and could have a great detrimental effect on your family and friends.  If you want to fight your Racing charge contact our office immediately at 813-251-3330 for a free consultation.

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